Go online to win public contracts, advises FPB

The Forum of Private Business (FPB) is advising businesses to go online to maximise their chances of winning public contracts, following the Government’s decision to scrap its policy of charging a maximum of £180 per year to use its supply2.gov.uk portal.

The move follows recommendations made in the Glover review of public procurement, which was published in November 2008. The review found that public sector buyers are missing out on innovation and savings because too few small businesses are able to access contracts.

In response to the problems experienced by its members in bidding for a share of the annual £175 billion worth of public business, the FPB is urging the Government to fast-track measures outlined in the review, most of which are not scheduled for implementation until 2010.

One of the Glover review’s key recommendations was creating greater transparency in public sector tendering via a free-to-use and online portal. Last year, the Government announced that the supply2.gov.uk service for lower-value public sector contracts would be available free of charge on a trial basis of just three months. At the time, the FPB said it should be free indefinitely.

“It's important that the measures put forward in the Glover review move in the right direction as quickly and as effectively as possible. These measures will help save more small firms from closure and provide a catalyst for economic recovery,” said the FPB’s policy representative Matt Goodman.

“Removing the cost barrier to accessing the supply2.gov.uk portal is a significant step towards improving access to public contracts and small businesses should register on the site without delay.”

Tim Williams, managing director of Millstream Associates and the FPB’s adviser on public sector tendering, urged business owners to take action and bid for public work.

“Public spending levels are staying constant at the moment and some spending is being brought forward to boost the economy,” he says. “There'll be cuts in future years though, so make hay while the sun shines.”

Another procurement and tender specialist Wendy Wills, managing director of Ways2Win, said preparing for tenders should be a key marketing strategy for UK businesses, but argued that many suffer from lack of confidence and inadequate planning. “All too often, small companies shy away from tendering,” she says. “It’s true that they need to prepare themselves, but done properly this can reap real rewards.”

The FPB is advising businesses on how to help themselves win their fair share of public contracts. Its ‘top tips’ are:

  • Source reliable and timely information on available contracts. At present, there are disparate information sources, some free and some subscription-based. An online search will identify a range of providers, including supply2.gov.uk.
  • Ensure your business is properly prepared for the Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) process. You will be asked about your standards and policies on issues ranging from HR to quality assurance and full financial disclosure will be expected. Producing all this information may be tedious, but once in place there should be a large number of contracts you can bid for.
  • Fill out the forms carefully and accurately. This is critical if you are to progress, so take it as seriously as if it is the final stage.
  • Avoid surprises by finding out as much as you can about each specific tender process and what is expected of you. If you are given the opportunity to ask questions, do so. If there is a phone number or email address, use it.
  • Try to build a relationship with the buyer. This can often be difficult, but it is the most powerful way of winning contracts. It may help to aim for smaller contracts, at first, in order to build up contacts and a track record of delivering.
  • Put yourself in the shoes of the person who will be reading the tender document. Keep it short, neat and relevant, and include relevant images. Consider what will make you stand out and get you into the ‘yes' pile.