How to Apply for Tenders (Find UK and Government tenders)

Jul 28, 2020

With billions of pounds spent every year buying from suppliers using tenders, everyone knows that bidding for work in this way is hugely lucrative.

So why do so many businesses choose to avoid doing so?

Person at a computer not knowing what to do with their tender

Bidding for tenders can seem complicated. You may not know where to look to find them, how to interpret the requirements of each one, or how to construct a response that increases your chances of winning the work.

In this article, we aim to give you clarity about the world of tenders. We will go into detail about what they are, the typical processes involved to find and apply, how to construct a bid, and what tools exist to make this process a whole lot easier.

Background (The World of Tenders)

world map with pins and money on it, representing the world of tenders

Approximately 1500 new government tenders and contracts are advertised each week across 18 business sectors including construction, clinical and medical, IT Services, education, energy and utilities, vehicles, financial services and waste management. The NHS and Fire and Emergency Services also use tender processes for awarding work to small, medium and large contractors.

UK Trade and Investment estimate that public sector ICT expenditure in the country is worth £18 billion, which is one of the largest in Europe. The latest figures from the Government Procurement Service say that the public sector market is worth £284 billion.

As part of an ongoing initiative the current administration has been seeking to increase the number of government tenders and contracts advertised, as well as encourage smaller companies to bid for a bigger slice in the public sector marketplace.

Every year, this translate into millions of pounds of business, all of which is awarded to organisations just like yours through open and accessible tenders which you can bid for.

To put it succinctly, the public sector spends an enormous amount with suppliers every year and will continue to do so.

Why do Business with the Government and its Agencies?

picture of big ben, referencing the UK government

Government procures goods and services from tens of thousands of suppliers, ranging from FTSE 100 listed multinational companies to small businesses and local charities. A good supplier can bring specialist expertise to a problem, potentially delivering a better service and saving the government money.

Working with Government departments can also bring benefits to organisations – regardless of size. Government procured work is a fairly stable market that is less likely to be periodically switched on and off. During a recession, it can offer a reliable source of business, and during a boom, it offers ever-expanding opportunities. But one thing is certain, it will still be a gigantic multibillion-pound marketplace no matter what happens in the future.

The payment terms can be extremely good. Wherever possible, Central Government bodies will pay within 10 days and failing that, The Prompt Payment Guidance for Public Sector Organisations requires payment to be made within 30 days. The HM Government terms of payment are generous to suppliers as they recommend quick payment to avoid problems with cash flow and to help maintain a stable supply chain.

The Government wants to deal with more companies so it can have a diversity of suppliers and thus receive better products and services at a better price. For the past 10 years, it has taken repeated steps to encourage more and more SMEs into the public sector marketplace.

There’s a vast amount of money to be made for some companies, working with the government can be the difference between prospering or going to the wall.

Breaking into the Tendering Marketplace

high rise business buildings, symbolising marketplaces

Some of the largest companies in the world find tendering to be an extremely lucrative marketplace. However, they do not dominate all of it, and a well organised and supported small/ medium organisation is often well placed to benefit from tender opportunities.

Tender award summaries will confirm that more small/medium enterprises are successful through tendering than ever before. Over the last decade, there has been a concerted attempt to introduce more and more suppliers to the public sector.

However, it has historically been the case that if a company lacks the knowledge of how to tender, then it will not be easy to secure business. The Government acknowledge that it is necessary for all organisations to learn how to tender in order to compete successfully in the public sector marketplace.

In 2018, there were 4 Government departments: The Ministry of Justice, the Department for Transport, the Department for International Trade and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which spent more than half of their entire budgets with external suppliers. Across government, the money is spent on a wide range of things from goods such as stationery and medicine to the construction of schools and roads, and from back-office functions such as IT and human resources to frontline services such as probation and social care.

You can find Government Tenders through our Tender Rocket platform (which is free to try). Another useful source of information is the regular ‘Meet The Buyer’ events.

A Typical Tendering Process?

wall with bid plans tacked to it, representing processes

Whether you’re a small company operating on a local basis or a larger corporation operating across the UK, there are likely to be tender opportunities which meet your organisation's strategic needs.

The bidding process is different for different types of business. Higher value opportunities will generally require the completion of a detailed questionnaire, supported by financial and other documentation required to satisfy the due diligence needs of the tendering organisation.

There’s a widely held perception that to win a tender contract you must submit the lowest price, but this is not the case. There is a range of criteria which the tendering authority may consider including price, quality, risk, social value and other factors. The lowest price bid doesn’t always win and during the evaluation process may be adjudged to represent poor value. Some local authority led tender processes use a weighting system which includes local labour recruitment and commitment to skills development and training.

All organisations and company’s need to assess their strengths to maximise their chances of success. Even a large organisation/ company needs to be clear about its objectives and its ability to compete. Tenders can be time-consuming to complete and organisations are strongly advised to bid for the opportunities that truly play to their key strengths.

Different Tendering Procedures

Hand writing on papers with a pen, representing the processes of applying for tenders

There are several different tendering procedures, each of which has slightly different requirements which are broadly administered along the following lines.

Open Tender Procedure

This type of procedure is open and available to any organisation that can supply the products or services indicated as required in the tender specification.

Restricted Tender Procedure

The Restricted Tender Procedure requires Companies to have met certain qualifying criteria before being invited to tender. After an expression of interest has been made, the bidding organisations are supplied with a Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ), which is then assessed to determine which ones should progress to the next stage. Those that satisfactorily meet the criteria are then sent the Invitation to Tender (ITT) documents.
Restricted Procedure is used when there is a specialist requirement – when particular skills are needed that not every company possesses. The PQQ is a means of checking that prospective suppliers can do the work or supply the services they are bidding for. It will have an emphasis on technical abilities, past experience, company profiles, internal resources, etc – it’s usually more about the company that wants to put in a bid than it is the tender of the buying organisation.

Negotiated Tender Procedure

This is a procedure normally used only in exceptional cases, in which the buyer invites pre-qualified suppliers to help negotiate the terms of the tender. Once a tender specification has been fully defined, the suppliers are then judged by their ability to meet that specification. Complex high-level tenders are often characterised by the negotiated procedure, when the specific requirements can’t be defined without supplier input, or when there are only a very small number of companies in the marketplace that can meet the needs of the tender.

Competitive Dialogue

Competitive Dialogue is a procedure which was introduced in 2006 as an alternative to Open and Restricted Procedures. It is a means by which the buyer and its prospective suppliers can discuss all aspects of a tender prior to awarding it, which is why it is so fundamentally different from the other procedures. It was designed to compensate for some of the limitations of the other tendering methods. When a buyer doesn’t have all the technical answers to questions relevant to the tender it needs to consult with the market to define its requirements, and then to be clear about the solutions that will satisfy those requirements. Competitive Dialogue is normally only used for very complex, high-level tenders.

Structure of the Tender Documents

posting notes on a page, representing structure

Tender processes always follow a structured format with the following being typical of what the tendering organisation publishes:

  1. Background Information about the opportunity
  2. Instructions for submitting a tender
  3. Technical specifications
  4. Main tender response form
  5. Pricing requirements
  6. Terms and Conditions of the tendered opportunity
  7. Award criteria and evaluation criteria
  8. Appendices

The published instructions for each tender will typically include deadlines for:

  • Submitting your "Expression of Interest"
  • Submission of the formal tender documents
  • The timing of any presentations required (presentations are not needed in many of the opportunities published)
  • Evaluation period
  • Award date
  • And any key dates for communication

Many of the tenders issued will require your submission to be through their designated online portal and we strongly recommend early registration (if you aren’t registered already) and also spending time to become familiar with how the portal works.

There are several portals in use, all are different though they work on similar principles. Examples include:

There should also be information on an Appeal Procedure, should you think your organisation has been treated unfairly, and the bidding process was not impartial. The Award Criteria should give a clear definition of the criteria by which the tender will be awarded. These are usually defined by points or percentages, as indicated in the section on pricing.

Stay Relevant (And Keep Up with The Times)

Modern computer keyboard representing staying relevant and up to date

In a world which is seeing a noticeable drift toward digital and electronic business-2-business, if you don’t embrace the opportunities presented through electronic tendering, you may fall behind. The modernisation of Government and the desire to ‘open up’ contract opportunities are resulting in year on year growth in the number of tenders announced and in the values of goods and services procured by way of tender.

Not wishing to scare-monger, but we all know what happened to the once-dominant Blockbuster when they ‘chose’ not to evolve with the times. Whilst streaming services grew in popularity; Blockbuster couldn't keep with changes in consumer needs. They effectively refused to go digital. Surprisingly, in 2000, the CEO of Blockbuster, John Antioco, sat down with Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix, where they presented a partnership deal that would lead to Blockbuster's shift in their business model, launching subscription-based on-demand video online. Antioco couldn't see the value in innovating, sticking to the status quo, and turned down the deal. Ten years later, the company filed for bankruptcy. We don't really need to tell you how it turned out for Netflix.

Preparing to Submit a Tender (How to Apply for Tenders)

two ladies preparing in a business context

Once you have made the strategic decision to grow your organisation through tendering, there’s a lot you can be doing to help yourself prepare for your first submission, even before you have identified a tender opportunity to pitch for.

Often, you will only have a few weeks from the identification of the opportunity to the submission deadline, we cannot stress enough the importance of being organised and anticipatory.

Most tenders will require you to submit a range of policies and procedures and it would be well worth your while making sure that you have up to date information ready and available to submit.

The documentation required may well include:

  • Financial Statements (typically for between the last 1 – 3 years),
  • Health and Safety Policy,
  • Environmental and Sustainability Policy,
  • Equal Opportunities Policy,
  • Insurance Certificates,
  • Data Protection and Freedom of Information Policies
  • Etc.

Individual industries will also have specific documentation requirements. For example, in the Education and Training sector, the Safeguarding and Prevent Duty Policy and Safer Recruitment Policies are often requested.

Your financial statements will be reviewed, and it is likely that your ‘financial health’ will be scored. As part of their Due Diligence process, you should expect the tendering organisation to be scrutinising some key ratios such as your profitability, gearing and solvency. They may also look at trends over time (say 3 years) to seek comfort and reassurance that your organisation isn’t in a period of significant decline. The tendering organisation will also wish to assure itself that in awarding the tender there are no conflicts of interest and that your key directors and staff have no adverse tendering history.

Full List of Government Tender Categories

groups of coloured flowers

The list of the tender categories by which tenders are defined on Government Online are given below. The categories present a simple description which avoids the complexity of the 10,000+ Common Procurement Vocabulary codes. Each descriptor is a live clickable link which directs you to more detailed sub-content.

The Advantages of Using Tender Rocket when Tendering (How to find Tenders)

Tender rocket UI on a iPad

1) Easy Access to Tenders the Day They’re Published

Learning how to tender is essential if you or your company is to sell to the public sector. This article will give you a clear idea of what tenders are, how to respond to a tender, what factors you ought to consider, and how to put in an effective bid. The aim is to cut out the jargon and give you the confidence to look at tendering as a viable means of securing work for your business.

Please bear in mind that the article is designed to meet those bidding for contracts in the public sector, though many of the issues involved are applicable to the private sector tender market as well.

2) Evaluate Opportunities That You Were Previously Unaware Of

The public sector marketplace is far bigger than most organisations are aware of. It extends to many industries and sectors with the following providing a flavour of the many different and varied organisations using tenders to award contracts:

  • Education sector – schools, colleges and universities.
  • National Health Services – hospitals, regional structures, research and governmental bodies
  • Ministry of Defence – army, navy and air force, numerous project teams with technical specialisms, educational and housing organisations, medical, research and administrative arms.
  • Local and Regional Government – councils, parish, district, borough, metropolitan and unified.
  • Regional governmental structures.
  • Central Government – Government Departments (includes Ministries, such as Department for Work and Pensions), Executive Agencies (smaller bodies under the responsibility of the Government Departments, some of which are nevertheless extremely big), and Non-Ministerial Public Bodies (organisations that may have a specialist technical role, e.g. Nuclear Decommissioning Authority).
  • Housing Associations
  • Utility Companies
  • Transport organisations (such as Network Rail Infrastructure)
  • Public Corporations - Includes independent trading entities set up by public bodies – these can be commercial enterprises on a local, regional or national level.

3) Build a Team Ethos to Tendering

The decision to tender is a strategic decision that often requires a team approach. Developing a tendering ethos is important and believe me, there’s nothing more thrilling than the buzz of being notified that your tender submission has been successful.
Importantly, teams thrive on this feeling and winning tenders regularly builds team spirit and confidence which will have an influence across the whole organisation.

The Tender Rocket platform is the only platform which allows multi-contributor access to:

  • The tender advert
  • Full proposal
  • Evaluation outcome
  • Tasklist and identified contributors

Whereas previously it took an email or phone call to find out if the tender ‘jigsaw’ was coming together at the right pace and to the right standard, Tender Rocket gives all authorised members of the team the state of play in an easy to use dashboard.

4) Create a Modern and Tender Enlightened Development Culture

The satisfaction to be gained from effective team working (in what can often be a complex process) will have a wider organisational benefit which extends beyond tendering. The beliefs, behaviours, individual and team performance can all be enhanced through the principles of information and knowledge sharing. The upskilling benefits of working together reduce dependency on single individuals and the whole business growth culture stands to benefit.
Effective process management is inherently cost-effective. The elimination of wasteful processes, staff frustration and the realisation of all-round improvements in communication and efficiency adds significant value. The Tender Rocket platform will transform the way you think about tenders, the way you evaluate and commit to making tender submissions and most importantly it will maximise your tender winning potential.

5) Develop a New Income Stream in your financial forecasting

Historically, tenders have been seen as the preserve of the large Corporation, but this has changed significantly in the last 5 years and the pace of change is continuing. The fall-out from failures such as Carillion has prompted the Government to set itself a target of spending £1 in every £3 ‎through contracts awarded to small/ medium-size enterprises. This target can and will only be reached (by their target date of 2022) through the award of a significant number of tenders to organisations like yours.
If you commit, plan and execute your tendering strategy effectively you will soon have a new and potentially significant income stream in your budget.

6) Tender Rocket – Key Features

From Day 1, the Tender Rocket platform has been developed from the perspective of the user. It’s the ease of use, functionality, and completeness (it is the only tender search platform that allows in platform submission management) make tendering easier than ever for both seasoned and new bid professionals.
Key features include the ability to:

  • Set personalised parameters (Value, Radius of your selected location, Target Market and Sub-Categories, Proximity to Submission Date and Contract Type)
  • Review tender opportunities which meet the parameters set (with a one-click select/reject option)
  • Evaluate shortlisted tenders with the opportunity to either reject the opportunity or identify internal task completion responsibilities
  • Prepare for submission with some handy reminders for double-checking your submission
  • Log submitted tenders pending the outcome
  • Post-outcome review

The Tender Rocket alerts function will remind you and your team of significant pre-submission deadlines, again this will help with the construction of a well thought through the proposal, completed in time for a detailed review and sign off prior to timely submission.

Tender Rocket also comes with over 20 short but informative step-by-step videos to help you build knowledge, confidence and to guide you through processes and submission of content.

What next

Winning Your Trust and Confidence

The Tender Rocket platform can be accessed from as little as £45 per month (plus vat).  There are no contracts and there is no minimum subscription duration.

We take great pride in the quality of service we deliver and if for any reason we fail to live up to your expectations (or if you just decide that you don’t wish to tender for a while) you can exit Tender Rocket just as easily as you joined.  

How else can the Tender Rocket Team help you?

Our core team have experience of writing and supporting organisations through there tender submission processes.  In the last 18 months, we have written or made a significant contribution to over 200 publicly funded tender submissions.  We can never guarantee availability when you most need help, but we are always willing to discuss the provision of bid and tender writing support (a service which we only provide to our Tender Rocket clients). 

If you think it's about time to get involved (or get more involved) in tendering then why not do so in a professional, organised and rewarding way.  At Tender Rocket we take great pride in supporting our clients and love nothing more than to hear the tendering success stories which our clients achieve. 

Click here to try the free Tender Rocket portal for free, set your parameters and review current tenders which meet your needs

*To ensure accuracy and thoroughness there are paragraphs in this blog which are influenced by or taken from the website.  The information has been provided in good faith and is intended to be helpful to organisations wishing to develop or grow their interest in winning work through tenders.

Tender Rocket makes it easier to find, apply for, and win UK tenders.

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