Top tips for tenders

Essential

Read all the questions through at least once and highlight words that will help you address the question such as “How will you…” and “What is the management structure….”

Pay attention to the small stuff.  Rules and regulations may appear overly bureaucratic but if it says for example, “do not bind documents” then don’t bind the documents – it could make you ineligible and waste all your hard work writing the tender.

Don’t use jargon.  There is no guarantee that your assessor will understand and this could affect your overall score.

If you really have to use acronyms make sure that they are explained at least once in the overall tender document and ideally the first time they are used in each separate question.  Some acronyms have more than one meaning, there is no guarantee that your assessor will either understand the acronym or pick the correct option. 

Get a second opinion.  A read through for clarity, typing mistakes and obvious mistakes from someone not involved in writing the tender can really help.  Although you’re not being marked for spelling, typing mistakes can easily change the meaning of a word, sentence or even a whole paragraph.  Ask your reader to also look for half finished sentences or ideas that appear at the beginning of the tender but are not then mentioned later in the document.  Tables are particularly worth checking, as it is easy to cut and paste only part of the information and miss out vital details in a later question.

If the tender is to be assessed on MEAT (Most Economically Advantageous Tender) this means that other factors than price per unit are taken into account.  Check that your targets are realistic in terms of timescale, capacity of the organisation, resources available and even the proportion of business available.  I.e. if you have said that there are 10,000 people in need of a home help service in your area – is it realistic that your service could help 1,000 over a 2-year period with intensive support? (This is 10% of the overall number).  

Finally, read the tender through yourself and ask just one question – does it describe what the purchaser is looking for?  Will they be able to see the specific project or service they are looking for, or just something that your group would like to deliver if it could get funding? 

Aim for top marks in every question

Be wary of questions with 2 or more questions within them – for example: “Describe how your organisation will deliver and monitor the activity described in this tender” Assessors will be looking for a full answer to both parts of the question.  Make it easier for yourself by reproducing the question and then adding headings e.g.: “Delivery” “Monitoring”

Risk assessments

Assessors are looking for tenders that:

  • List appropriate and realistic risks associated with the specific work that would be delivered by the tender
  • Show an understanding of the level of risk associated with each item on the list
  • Show an understanding of how each risk can be “mitigated” i.e. how each risk can be reduced or eliminated (as appropriate)
  • Show after “mitigating” factors, what the end level of risk is

How can I show levels of risk?

A numbered scale e.g. 1 to 5 or a scale of low, medium and high could be used – choose something that is appropriate to your group and easy to explain to the staff/ volunteers that will deliver the work if you are successful. 

Remember this is not a paper exercise but a way of helping your group to manage the work.  Ideally the risk assessment should be done at the beginning of the tender process. It should form part of the decision-making process for your group and inform the management committee’s decision whether or not to bid in the first place.

Project management

Show clearly where the contract will be managed in your organisation i.e. is it the Director of the group or the management committee or both that will be involved?  It could be that the management committee will oversee delivery and strategic direction but the Director will manage the day-to-day delivery and deal with any delivery/ staffing issues – make this clear.

Even if your group is quite small, showing this relationship as a diagram can be helpful to assessors that do not know your organisation and how it is run.  For voluntary and community groups in particular this can be useful if you are being compared with a private sector or statutory competitor.  For larger voluntary and community groups or partnerships this diagram is essential and should show relationships between departments and/ or partner organisations.  Ask for a second opinion on a draft of this diagram to make sure it makes sense to someone outside of your organisation.
 
Example diagram and text: This is an example of how an organisation might describe the staff structure and how the new work created by the tender (if successful) could be managed and delivered.

Your organisation may be organised very differently or be working in partnership.  In this case describe the staff structure your group has and make sure it is clear which organisation is responsible for which part e.g. oversight & responsibility, management of tender, delivery of tender activity.

In this example, only one organisation is bidding for the tender:
example diagram showing the staffing structure in an organisation

“If successful, this tender would be managed by the Chief Executive with day-to-day delivery and overseeing of work and targets by Project Manager B.  Oversight and ultimate responsibility for successful delivery lies with the Management Committee who will be kept up-to-date with progress and issues through short staff reports that are written every 6 weeks and more detailed monitoring information every 3 months.  All new posts would be full time equivalent (35 hrs per week) to be recruited if tender is successful.”

Complaints policies

A generic complaints policy for your group is usually acceptable but make sure it is relevant to the service being tendered for.  Add information about how the complaints policy will be promoted, used and reviewed.

There could be additional considerations or changes that would need making to help deliver the work created by the work you are bidding for.  For example, if the tender is to undertake work with people with learning disabilities, an easy read version and additional support would be essential.

Help your assessor

  • Don’t use colour to highlight key points, as the documents will be photocopied for the assessment panel – most likely in black and white.
  • Do reproduce the question at the beginning of each section before you put your answer.
  • Do use headings
  • Do write clearly and concisely.  Remember your tender could be read last in a large pile of similar tenders at the end of the day…
  • Do be wary of “cut” and “paste”, especially if submitting more than one tender to the same organisation as part of a larger programme.  You might get some of the same panel members so start with the information specific to the individual tender (i.e. don’t cut and paste right from the start) and only then cut and paste from another tender if the rest of the information needed really is exactly the same.
  • Do show your enthusiasm.  Tenders need to show a professional and trustworthy picture of your organisation and its capabilities but they don’t need to be dry and boring.  If you have exciting ideas for delivering the work covered by the tender then make them known.

Some acronyms you might see in tenders and what they mean

PQQ – Pre qualification questionnaire
ITT – Invitation to tender
WTP – Willingness to pay
RFQ – Request for quote
OGC – The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) is an independent Office of the Treasury
EMS – Environmental management system (e.g. ISO 14000)
MEAT – Most economically advantageous tender – as opposed to lowest price – these are the two different ways of evaluating a tender and must be specified in the tender documents.
MOU - Memorandum of understanding

Recommended reading for the Board and managers of an organisation considering tendering:

CC37 - Charities and Public Service Delivery – charity commission guidance.

Advice from Government on tendering for public sector contracts 

Doing business with Bradford Council (updated version December 2012)


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