In the UK, local governments award contracts of over £100 billion every year. They will not be going out of business and they always pay their bill. This makes the public sector an appealing customer so we will consider how you can win local government contracts.
What They Offer
If your organisation is looking for business growth opportunities in public sector procurement, local government tenders are a great place to start. Unlike the private sector, they are a secure income stream and can guarantee revenue.
There is a comprehensive procurement process before awarding government contracts and this establishes wider trust that you are a good and reliable supplier that delivers on quality and price. This reputation will further expand your addressable market to many other local organisations who appreciate the rigour of the selection process you will have passed.
Where to Start
If you are new to local government bidding you must ensure that you meet the minimum qualifications including:
• Relevant Experience – include reference contracts where you have delivered similar goods or services in the public or private sector
• Financial Stability Requirements – they may check credit ratings and request financial reports
• Governance & Certifications – they may request ISO or equivalent management standards e.g. quality, environmental and health & safety management systems etc.
• Procurement Experience – can you complete their requested pricing matrix or commercial schedule as well as responding in writing with a quality submission and/or a technical submission?
If you do not have all of this in place in-house, then you can consider:
• Using the services of a bid specialist with wide and deep experience of local authority bidding to help you enter that market
• Looking for opportunities for pilot or demonstrator projects
• Be prepared to provide elements of your service as a free trial or taster service
• Do a mini contract with the local authority to demonstrate proof of concept or proof of your competence as evidence that will help you to win more business or future tendered contracts
• Research the minimum contract levels to understand the levels that fall below a full tender process
These approaches can help you ‘get in the door’ and evidence your service which will then lead to larger contracts.
What is Local Government?
Local government responsibilities vary across the UK. Some are responsible for social care and provide transport, housing and education. They can also be in charge of a range of neighbourhood services including waste and recycling services, leisure and community services as well as local economic and cultural development.
Local governments vary in shape and size, from county and district councils, unitary authorities and metropolitan boroughs to rural councils. Ensure your bid is tailored to the local area, local circumstances and local conditions. It is important to recognise that the council is not one big geographic area, it is made up of communities, residents and sometimes social housing tenants.
Use research to better understand the type of authority you are bidding to. Look on their website, review their structure, read their strategies and council meeting minutes, watch videos of council meetings where available, etc. This will give you a sense of what the elected members and senior officials are focused on and what they have budgeted for and publicly committed to achieve.
Most local authorities have a published procurement strategy which outlines how they work. This is very helpful if for example, you are a small to medium enterprise and their strategy is to award contracts to more small medium enterprises. If you can provide their required services but struggle with some aspects of the qualification for the bid, you could appeal to them through the clarification question procedure, citing as evidence what they say in their own procurement strategy e.g. about opening up procurement to SME bidders.
Working with Local Government
As you will be performing services on behalf of the local government body, demonstrate that you can represent them, sound like them and work to a similar ethos and standards. Mirror the language they use in the bid document e.g. service users vs customers, and reflect their working practices such as social value, sustainability and fair work practices – where these are applicable.
Know your council and their communities to demonstrate how your services, goods or works will be delivered to their various neighbourhoods. Show you understand any particular nuances within the neighbourhood’s geography and diversity such as different languages spoken. Outline how you will be inclusive and evidence it. For example, what you will do or how you have done it on other contracts, talk about your staff who are fluent in these languages, show you can work with a translation service etc.
Making the Bid Appealing
Your submission will be reviewed by a number of evaluators from different areas of the council relevant to the contract. These will include the service area that need the service and the procurement team. It is vital to write for all stakeholders and to understand what will appeal to them.
Be clear and ensure you stand out, for example, many competitors promise to create apprenticeships, which sounds good but guarantees nothing. Guaranteeing a number of apprenticeships tied to the contract spend, such as a minimum of one apprentice per £1million is a much stronger offer. Outline your recruitment process, the training provided and bring the commitment to life. This makes it much easier for the evaluators to mark as it is a guaranteed delivery rather than an empty promise.
It is important to remember that your bid, if you are successful, will become part of your contract so your guarantees need to be delivered. It is not fair if a contractor gets points for promises that they later do not uphold. You can use the Clarification Question process to ask how the strength of commitment will be tested, how they will monitor progress reporting and the penalties for non- delivery. This ensures a level playing field and that all bids can be evaluated accordingly.
What are the Big Issues?
There are always big issues shaping the focus and political agendas of local governments. It is vital to know the ones affecting the authority you are bidding to. The main ones include:
• Value for Money – Local government is always under financial pressure. An increasing number of customers need an increasing number of services. They are looking for efficient and effective solutions that provide good value for money, streamline operations and use continually improving and developing technology to deliver better, faster or cheaper ways of doing things. At the same time, they require a robust risk management approach with due regard to safety.
• Sustainability – Many councils have declared a climate emergency so sustainability is increasingly important. Evidence how you are delivering goods or services in an environmentally friendly way. Reducing your carbon footprint can contribute to the council’s goals and objectives.
• Social Value – Social value is high on every council evaluator’s agenda. We have seen it move from being rarely mentioned to now accounting for 5%-20% of the technical or quality score. Craft your social value offering to be targeted and ideally more than the council is expecting. Where possible tie social value to contract spend and aligns it to their objective e.g. local job creation, apprenticeships, opportunities for young people etc. If you cannot provide direct employment, instead focus on training and mentoring opportunities.
• Fair Work Practices – It is important that you treat your staff well, not only as good business practice but also because councils require evidence that you are a good employer. They want to develop strong working partnerships with suppliers who share their values. They are also very risk averse and do not like bad publicity. Show them how you will be a good and trustworthy corporate partner.
How to Get Noticed
There are opportunities to get on the local governments radar and let them know about your services. Watch out for prior information notices (PIN), soft market testing and meet the buyer events. These are ideal ways to get in front of the people that work in local government, to find out what is important to them and to share some information about your services. Explain what differentiates you and provide a genuine customer value proposition for the benefits of using your organisation and what it will mean for them and their local residents.
Asking for Feedback
Getting feedback from the council whether a bid is successful or unsuccessful is vital for your organisation. You can take key learnings from the feedback, make improvements and increase your prospects of future bid success.