COVID-19 & BUSINESS RESILIENCE: 2022 will be the third calendar year where Covid-19 loomed large. We are all learning to live with the constraints, but uncertainties remain around further strains, more lockdowns, etc. Covid vaccinations are assuming increasing importance with some countries making them mandatory. Bidders will need to have clear answers in their bid responses for how they will cope e.g. financially, with service delivery, with sickness absences, etc. There is increased scrutiny now of business resilience / business continuity plans.
SUSTAINABILITY/NET ZERO: Following COP26 and the declared climate emergency, the UK Government now requires in-scope public sector organisations to require a carbon reduction plan for suppliers on all contracts for over £5m per annum. Procurement is being used to assist the drive to UK Net Zero (by 2050) and Scotland (by 2045) – bidders need to demonstrate how they will assist buying organisations to meet their strategic net zero objectives; how the bidder will achieve it themselves (not enough anymore to say you are ‘exploring the use of an electric vehicle’ – buyers can quickly see through greenwash); and how they will assure it via their own supply chains. Measuring, reporting and evidencing the delivery of sustainability outcomes will be at least as stringent as social value reporting.
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SUPPLY CHAINS/LOGISTICS: We’ve seen some very significant issues with supply chains and logistics this year, such as the fuel supply crisis, lorry driver shortages and supply chain delays due to the triple whammy impacts of Covid, Brexit and labour shortages. If supply chain (e.g. materials, etc) is important in your bids (and it is in many public sector bids) then make sure you can evidence how you will ensure security of supply, including what contingency plans you have in place.
COSTS: We are seeing cost increases virtually across the board but especially in fuel, energy, labour and materials costs. Very important that bidders make commercial assumptions, look carefully at the price increase/change control provisions in the contract and consider detailed (and in some cases tactical) clarification questions to ensure that all bidders are aware of the factors and constraints involved. Allow time within the bid window to stress test your commercial model ensuring you have a robust internal adjudication process. Enlisting the services of an external cost consultant can be hugely beneficial with their insights into market rates, current trends, etc. They may also have some good cost saving and value engineering suggestions.
PROCUREMENT CHANGES: We’ve seen increased requirements being introduced through Public Procurement Notes (e.g. PPN 06/21 requiring carbon reduction plans to be evidenced for major government contracts, and PPN 07/20 relating to payment performance, which came in to force in April this year). In 2022, more changes are likely to come in following the UK Government’s Transforming Public Procurement White Paper (which was issued following the withdrawal from the EU). This envisages a move from MEAT (Most Economically Advantageous Tender) to MAT (Most Advantageous Tender). This will allow other elements to have increasing weight e.g. social value, environmental factor, prompt payment of supply chain. It will be interesting to see what effects the consultation responses will have had and whether primary legislation will be brought forward in 2022 to enact new legislation. Bidders really need to start preparing for this as hopefully it will see an end of any perceived ‘race to the bottom’ in public sector procurement.
DYNAMIC PURCHASING SYSTEM (DPS): Expect to see greater use of DPS with the increased flexibility they offer. Many framework providers are also offering DPS options now alongside their frameworks to give their participating organisations more procurement options. They also allow a more responsive approach to new suppliers, market price changes and innovations, etc. DPS can be a great way for new entrants to public sector bidding to get a foothold.
PUBLIC SPENDING INVESTMENT: There does seem to be a renewed emphasis on funding public sector projects, with significant funding promised via the National Infrastructure Strategy (£130 billion), Levelling Up Fund (£4.8 billion) and other funding that will come e.g. the green industrial revolution. There is also funding available via research, development and innovation grants including some funding that was previously allocated via EU bodies.
DIVERSIFICATION: Given the attractiveness of the public sector as a client, especially in uncertain economic times, we are seeing more businesses pivoting to seek public sector contracts. They may already be in one part of the public sector and looking to widen their penetration of this market e.g. currently delivering services to universities and colleges, now widening to NHS or local authorities. Alternatively, they could be purely in the private sector e.g. delivering to tourism/retail, etc and now looking to diversify. Talking to experienced public sector bid consultants such as AM Bid can prove very beneficial in understanding how your chosen markets work.
CONNECTION TO BUYERS’ STRATEGIES: More attention is now being given to alignment with buyers’ overarching strategies (e.g. NHS bids requiring bidders to overtly align themselves with strategic objectives such as reducing waiting times/lists, etc and state how their solution will help them achieve these). It is very important that your bid research goes further than just reading the tender documents. Give attention to the buyer’s strategic documents, stated policies and even to recent news releases/press coverage – all of these elements could have a bearing on your tender quality/technical scoring, especially in the areas of standing out i.e. differentiation.
KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT: We are seeing enhanced requirements to provide back-up evidence in bids (e.g. requiring any client quotes/testimonials/proof points relating to previous delivery to be accompanied by contact details of a source who can verify them). Having evidence, not just testimonials, but also statistics, measured outcomes, case studies, examples of resolved complaints, innovations, added value and social value is becoming too important to just be picked up during a bid window. We recommend that bidders give thought to having someone responsible for curating the knowledge within a business and marshalling it together into a library that is kept updated. This will be a great resource for the bid writers to draw upon; it will be time-saving, reducing the calls on other staff to continually be providing similar information for different bids and importantly will also increase bid success rates.
CYBER SECURITY: Both the public and private sectors continue to experience some significant data breaches, system hacks, etc. Many public sector contracts mean that a bidder has access to confidential personal service user data. Many buyers are now requiring Cyber Essentials accreditation at minimum and ISO 27001 Information Security Management for larger contracts. Keep up with, and in some cases get ahead of, your competition by improving your cyber security arrangements and securing external validation of this at the highest level your business can afford for this.
SME BIDDING – The UK Government Cabinet Office and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all would like to see SME businesses getting a greater share of the public procurement pie. However, there remain some barriers to achieving the maximum potential from this. Research continues to show that the vast majority of SMEs find the public procurement process challenging, and while the sector is already reacting to some of these barriers and trying to encourage greater SME engagement, innovative approaches such as the recently-released Ultimate Tender Coach bid writing training course will help. The online tender training programme covers the end-to-end bid process, provides the knowledge and expertise SMEs need to improve their bid writing and gives them the help and support they need to win more public sector contracts.
DATA – ANALYTICS AND MODELLING – Using data insights to drive decision-making, for example, with identifying trends, demand and spend analysis, predictive service delivery (getting to something before it becomes an issue) and providing options for streamlining efficiencies are just some of the ways that bidders who can evidence how they will use data to benefit their buyer can help to differentiate their bids. Using data visualisation tools and advance analytics and modelling will certainly help but you must make clear how their use will benefit your client.
NEW TECHNOLOGIES – Such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, robotics, Internet of Things (IoT), cloud technology, machine learning, 3D printing and blockchain could have parts to play within your contracts. Your buyer will be interested in how your deployment of new technologies will make things better for them so the usual bid win themes of better, faster, cheaper, safer, greener may be brought to life with examples of how technology will be used to deliver better outcomes. Compatibility with any of your client systems the technologies may need to integrate with will also be important – you do not want to be marked down for a proposition that could not be used at your client end, if that was a requirement.
GLOBAL OPPORTUNITIES – Both Brexit and the pandemic have brought about changes on how and where we can do business. UK-based firms are increasingly looking to global markets and trade deals are being struck with many countries which could open up new markets. Whilst the main focus will be on the shape of a future trade deal with the USA, other trade deals will likely be of more than passing interest to many UK businesses e.g. with the Trans-Pacific Pact countries of Japan, Canada, Australia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Singapore, Mexico, Peru, Brunei, Chile and Malaysia – this pact removes 95% of trade tariffs between its members. Also, many Middle Eastern states are starting to contemplate a life beyond oil and ploughing major investment into construction, travel destination options and of course renewables.
DIVERSITY & INCLUSION – In addition to bidders needing to provide evidence of their commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion, they can also deliver important outcomes via the social value element of contracts. An example of an organisation that can assist with both recruitment and links to ethnic minority-owned SME businesses is the highly successful Black Professionals in Construction (BPIC) Network. Started less than two years ago, it is already demonstrating what can be done by working in partnership with main contractors and interested parties.
REFERENDUM – Depending on how Covid-19 goes and the economic recovery from it, the Scottish Government has a manifesto commitment to push for a second referendum before the end of 2023. This may have some impacts on perceptions of Scottish bidders in UK markets, or on non-Scottish bidders to Scottish markets. Of course, the public sector evaluation panels will be expected to maintain strict political neutrality. Bidders, especially on long-term contracts, need to give some thought to how their contract would be delivered if Scotland votes to become an independent country.
BID RECRUITMENT – Whilst 2020 was largely an employers’ market due to the pandemic (e.g. redundancies, furlough, short-time working, etc), 2021 has seen a reversal of this with candidates currently in the driving seat in most sectors. There are resource challenges with many vacancies in the bid sector and some bidders are really struggling to attract/retain staff. For example, we recently had a tier one contractor in the construction sector ask us to help them simultaneously recruit four bid directors and three bid writers on 6-12-month interim assignments. Whereas previously companies required bid staff to be present close to five days per week in their office, the pandemic has completely changed this. Most people are no longer prepared to live with a five-day per week commute to an office and will change employer if they feel they are coerced into something they don’t want to do. People have embraced the change to home working and many want contracts that have flexibility with hybrid working arrangements. It is very common to now see jobs advertised with Location: UK/some attendance at office e.g. London, required. IR-35 is also really having an effect on some of the interim assignments. HMRC will be stopping their light touch approach to compliance in April 2022 and there will be some hefty financial penalties coming where the wrong choices have been made around decisions on employee/worker/contractor status. Getting the right advice on these matters is vital.
THOUGHT LEADERSHIP – People who sit on evaluation panels and make/influence procurement decisions are not in a bubble. They are increasingly consumers of digital/social media. Whilst we may think that none of this could have any effect on public sector procurement decisions, as long as these decisions are made by human beings, then the subliminal and emotional elements of decision-making should not be overlooked. Give thought to how you can pique the interest of decision-makers, especially by creating content in places where they are likely to consume this. For example, look to follow your target organisations and decision-makers on social media and connect with them where this is possible. Like some of their content and in this way help yourself and your business get on their radar.
PROCUREMENT EVENTS – There has been some return to in-person events in 2021 and a mixed bag of virtual events. Depending on the progress in combatting Covid-19, expect to see more in-person events in 2022. We are also seeing some event organisers looking at innovative hybrid models of simultaneous in-venue and live streamed options. Bidders who make the effort to connect with their markets e.g. at in-person events may get ahead of other bidders who choose to hang back. However, risk assessments and Covid-secure arrangements need to be given important attention by all involved.
BIDDING AS A PROFESSION – The importance of bidding as a profession continues to grow. APMP (the Association of Proposal Management Professionals) has over 1,000 members in the UK and APMP certification (to foundation, practitioner or professional status) is being seen as a differentiator by many recruiters. APMP has made a successful pivot to delivering courses, networking and events virtually since the pandemic started.
MARGINAL GAINS/BID TRANSFORMATION – Whilst super-bidders have looked to be continuously improving every part of their bidding function and bids, many are now appreciating the difference that external bid professionals can make. For example, AM Bid has been booked for a six-month bid transformation project by a major contractor as part of their drive to achieve 100% business growth in a five-year period. The directors recognise that it could be difficult to achieve this growth with their current set-up and that external bid professionals can help turbo-charge bidding success.
Andrew Morrison and David Gray are Directors of AM Bid, Scotland’s leading bidding and tender specialists, and creators of Ultimate Tender Coach, an online bid training programme designed to give SMEs all the skills they need to win public contracts.
As industry leaders, they host regular LinkedIn Live shows where they share industry insights, interview experts and highlight best practice in winning business.
AM Bid has a team of experienced bid writing professionals based across the UK and operates in more than 25 sectors. The award-winning company maintains an independently audited bid success rate of 80%+.