A world of opportunity
There are 418 principal councils in the UK, each of which has responsibility for some or all of the following local services:
- Highways & transport planning
- Passenger transport
- Social Care
- Leisure and Recreation
- Environmental health
- Waste collection and disposal
- Planning applications & strategic planning
- Local tax collection
Each of those 418 councils, including county councils, district councils, unitary authorities and metropolitan boroughs is required to go to tender for most goods and services, either by themselves, as part of a group, or as a buyer on a framework or Dynamic Purchasing System. As you can imagine, that leads to a huge amount of council tenders every year, with each one being an opportunity for a small company to grow their business.
So how do you make the most of these opportunities for council tenders?
When tendering for goods and services, a council will have a particular set of objectives in mind, which they will outline in the tender documentation, so your offer will need to demonstrate that it is precisely aligned to these aims. There may be particular local issues that the council is trying to address, or that needs to be taken into account, so if you are a local SME, demonstrating that you understand these local issues and are best placed to manage them can be a real differentiator against an offer from a large corporate bidder. Figure out how to show you have a better understanding of the council and local community issues than anyone else. Are there key demographics you can include to show how your service is targeted specifically for the council? Are there specific issues with parts of the local community that you have experience in dealing with? How have you engaged / how will you engage with the community to help reduce the impact on council resources?
It’s not just an understanding of local issues where you can gain an advantage over your larger competitors, but if you can demonstrate how your tender response will actually improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the local community, this can gain valuable marks when your tender is evaluated. Council tenders will almost certainly contain a question on Social Value. Obviously, you need to take into consideration the value of the tender and the size of your business but think about what you can offer in terms of local employment, apprenticeships, volunteering, local business support, and environmental and sustainability considerations. What can you offer as a local SME that a large corporate can’t?
Council budgets are tight, and councils are looking to make savings across the board, so your response to council tenders will need to demonstrate that they are getting the best possible value for money. Think about how you can show increased efficiencies and/or reduced costs whilst retaining a high quality service. Do you have figures from your previous contracts/experiences? Have you saved other council customers money over the course of their contracts, if so, how much and how did you do it? Bear in mind that bids from your larger competitors will focus on their ability to achieve volume efficiencies (e.g. by buying in bulk) so you need to provide evidence to counter that by showing that in the long run, your smaller business delivers better value for money.
Councils are risk-averse, so as a small business going up against larger competitors, you are going to need to demonstrate that the quality of your service delivery, including the management of that service, is more stable and better controlled than that of a large corporation. Your tender response needs to show that you have robust contract management processes in place, with a clear organisation and accountability structure and corresponding lines of communication. You’ll need to detail how you ensure that your service delivery is of a consistent high quality and describe the features and benefits of any technology that you use to manage your service delivery. You’ll also need to describe the systems you have in place for dealing with any problems or complaints. Can you show how you have acted on feedback to improve the quality of your service, particularly if you’ve had feedback from other council customers? Including management information reports and details of adherence to the SLA (Service Level Agreement) and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) will strengthen your bid.
One final area where an SME can excel against larger competition on a council tender is innovation and continuous improvement. This can be a key differentiator from big businesses that might have obsolete or inflexible systems and yards of red tape, so it’s critical to show evidence of how you can implement new capabilities quickly and how your innovative methods have been used to provide a faster service, saved your other customers money or time, and/or delivered better quality and value. Councils are looking for suppliers to deliver over and above the specified services so they can deliver a better service for their own customers/residents/users. As an SME, really focus on how being a smaller, more flexible company gives you a huge advantage over the larger corporates when it comes to innovation.
Hopefully the above will help you demonstrate to the council that you provide an innovative, high quality, value for money service that addresses local issues and benefits the local community. However, when preparing your response to council tenders, don’t forget the basics:
- Read all the tender documentation thoroughly to understand all the requirements, including whether the tender is broken down into lots
- Ensure your policies and procedures are strong, regularly reviewed and communicated to your staff e.g. Health & Safety, Safeguarding, Equality & Diversity
- Back up all your responses with evidence to assure the council that you are low risk and have the skills and experience necessary to provide the service
- Prepare 3 relevant references who are happy to be contacted
- Get your pricing right. Do as much competitor research as possible but pitch to win with at least some profit. The council will want assurance that the contract is financially viable
See our blog “Complete Tenders Guide to Public Sector Procurement” for the exceptions.