How to get the most out of Contracts Finder
Contracts Finder is the single, central publishing portal for almost all UK Public Sector procurement opportunities. Moreover, it is free to use! You can even set up email alerts so that opportunities are mailed to you daily.
All opportunities above either £10,000 (for Central Contracting Authorities) or £25,000 (for Sub-Central Contracting Authorities and NHS Trusts) must be published on the site. These thresholds are significantly lower than their OJEU equivalents, which are £65,000 – £181,000, depending on the Authority and notice type.
Contracts Finder’s lower thresholds mean that a greater range of opportunities are available on the portal, thereby:
- Making procurement more accessible for smaller businesses and voluntary/charitable organisations;
- Playing a critical role in delivering the government’s commitments for transparency in procurement.
Contracts Finder is quite simple to use for basic searches but has some advanced functionality that enables more expert users to refine searches and get better quality results. Therefore, two members of the NewBusiness.Dev business development team, Nancy Laidler and Rachael O’Connor, have created a Video Tutorial which demonstrates how to search Contracts Finder, save those searches, and have opportunity notices delivered directly to your inbox, free of charge.
NewBusiness.Dev is one of the leading business development, bid management and copywriting agencies in the UK, and we have an excellent track record for helping companies win tenders.
Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at https://www.newbusiness.dev/contact/.
NewBusiness.Dev Ltd & Lauren McNeilage
“Please Procure Responsibly – The state of public service commissioning” by Joshua Pritchard and Rose Lasko-Skinner, March 2019.
A brief comment on Reform’s latest report
No system is perfect; this is as true of public procurement as it is of anything else. Anyone who has worked in procurement for any length of time will be intimately acquainted with both the positive and negative aspects of the current processes. Equally, they will be aware of the collapse of Carillon in early 2018. This most public of failures suggests that the public procurement process is in dire need of a shake-up, and Reform’s recent report confirms this.
Reform, the leading think tank for public service reform, released a report in March 2019 laying out the many failings of the current system, as well as a substantive list of recommendations to improve the process for government, businesses and the public.
In the report, Reform lists ten recommendations that would benefit all parties involved. We aim to give a distilled overview of each in this post, and we highly recommend reading the full report for yourself. You can find it here.
- Objective ‘make or buy’ flowcharts to be created
Reform is highly critical of the current ‘make or buy’ process, which has resulted in a high frequency of outsourcing for the wrong services, and therefore an unnecessary increase in spending. Reform recommends considering whether a service “naturally lends itself to outsourcing”, as well as focusing on the characteristics of the service itself, not the market context. To provide guidance, they have laid out ten questions they believe commissioners should consider before making any ‘make or buy’ decisions. Find them on page 22 of the report.
- A national guidance framework and toolkit should be produced, with a focus on identifying and quantifying social value.
Commissioners need to ensure that public spending achieves the greatest possible value for society, not the smallest amount of expenditure for the procuring body. As the public’s money is being spent, it is only fair that it be on a solution which offers social value in return.
The splintered nature of current advice on how to ensure social value makes doing so difficult, and many commissioners feel they are “freestyling” due to the lack of concentrated guidance, hence Reform’s recommendation of a national guidance framework.
- The PSTA (Public Service Transformation Academy) should receive an annual funding grant of £60,000.
- A national training framework (a free digital course) should be implemented to those procuring over OJEU thresholds.
Reform combined recommendations 3 and 4, so we have done so too. Up to now, emphasis has been placed on upskilling central government departments, usually at the expense of local authorities. This has resulted in a disparity in the commercial expertise held by central and local procurement teams. Reform recommends implementing and increasing training and events for local authorities to level the playing field.
- Government Commercial Function should expand to include an advisory service.
A focus on commercial skills is an important part of the reforms needed in the public sector. Commercial expertise capacity building in local authorities does not go far enough and a huge pool of expertise is utilised only by central government to the detriment of local authorities. Furthermore, the high turnover of commissioner staff has an unfavourable effect, especially on local authorities. Therefore, Reform suggests the provision of Government Commercial’s advisory services through Public Service Transformation Academy’s regional hubs to provide support for commissioners and maximise bidding potential.
- A ‘statement of responsibility’ regime should be adopted by all government departments involved in commissioning, so that all involved in supply chains are aware of the responsibilities and accountabilities involved.
Firstly, Reform has noted the contract inflexibility that is currently common in procurement, the burden of which usually falls on service users. This increases risks, which recommendation 6 seeks to reduce. Reform suggests that contract flexibility should support service delivery innovation. This means shifting to Outcomes-Based Commissioning (OBC) and placing more onus on what citizens/service users want, rather than what services or works are being purchased. Secondly, Reform recommends using a common risk appraisal standards framework to encourage a less ‘aggressive’ transfer of risks to suppliers. Thirdly, accountability is a key concern, and a lack thereof has resulted in a loss of confidence in public sector procurement. Making the boundaries of accountability clearer places the focus of procurement back onto the beneficiary/service user. (Page 38-51)
- Updated guidance should be issued regarding publication of information on Contracts Finder, including a standard minimum requirement of information.
- Redaction/Non-publication may be permitted, but a case must be presented to the Cabinet Office.
- Lists of Authorities who do not meet obligations regarding Contracts Finder should be published, be accessible, and a three-strike system should require “black-listing” for non-compliance.
Recommendations 7 through 9 highlight the lack of transparency in public sector procurement. The frustration towards the lack of available information was touched on in the Institute for Government’s report ‘Government Procurement: The scale and nature of contracting in the UK’, published in December 2018. Recommendation 6 seeks accountability, while recommendations 7-9 seek to support and enforce this through transparency and compliance. It has been clearly recognised by many, both within and outside of government, that this is a much-needed step forward.
- An independent review of the current regulatory landscape of outsourcing in public services should be commissioned, ultimately to move towards standardisation, healthy competition, sustainability and social value.
Reform feels that the audits in place to ensure governance of the procurement system are not suitable, and that regulation needs to be stricter, especially regarding the management of public money and the value for money across public services. Some have suggested that a new regulator is need, one that is independent from government.
In short, all of Reform’s recommendations seek to increase transparency for both the government and the public, and, in doing so, allow both parties to hold commissioners to account. There are clear challenges, but should they be overcome, these changes will bolster the procurement process and allow for new and exciting competitions and developments in the future.
To grasp the full scope of Reform’s recommendations, the full report is available here.
NewBusiness.Dev Ltd, Lauren McNeilage & Nancy Laidler
Reform is a registered charity and the leading Westminster think tank for public service reform. Its mission is to set out ideas that will improve public services for all and deliver value for money.
NewBusiness.Dev is a London based business development and copywriting agency. We work with clients across Europe, refining sales strategies, finding and winning new business.
NewBusiness.Dev was made aware of the report by diginomica, a media property designed to serve the interests of enterprise leaders in the digital era, please read the article here.
Watch the video here !
NewBusiness.Dev has a great track record for helping companies successfully win a place on Crown Commercial Service (CCS) frameworks.
Once we have helped companies onto the framework, we invariably have to spend time with them, talking them through the process of completing their monthly MISO returns.
“MISO” stands for “Management Information System Online” and is the website through which companies must report their sales data to CCS.
In the video we will talk you through the process of submitting a monthly CCS MISO report for a specific framework. Any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.
The team at NewBusiness.Dev would like to wish our American customers, partners and former colleagues a very happy thanksgiving. We hope you fill up on plenty of turkey, spend some well-earned time with your loved ones and kick your feet up for a while. In our own little British rendition of the holiday, some of our team popped down to the Mayflower Pub, just a stone’s throw from our office in Waterloo. We had a couple of drinks, toasted and gave thanks ourselves.
On 14 November 2018, the European Commission and UK negotiators reached an accord on the full scope of the Withdrawal Agreement and constructed an outline for the political declaration on the future of the relationship between the EU and the UK.
The coverage of the draft treaty agreement presented to parliament has been extensive; most trade journals have already provided comprehensive coverage on the most salient details for each industry.
As NewBusiness.Dev specialises in public sector procurement, we decided to shed some light on the meaning of the recent draft treaty and how it will impact public sector procurement.
The section of the draft treaty that addresses public sector procurement can be found on page pages 132 – 136 of the draft treaty. It is not the most accessible of documents and so we have provided a more succinct explanation of what to expect below.
First and foremost, there is to be a transition period, which will conclude on the 31st December 2020. This decision takes into account the UK’s initial request for a transition period of approximately two years. The dates also coincide with the end of the current long-term EU budget (the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020).
The Treaty and associated EU Withdrawal Agreement provides legal certainty on public procurement procedures. During the transition period, the current EU procurement regulations will prevail. This situation will then continue for any ‘in-flight’ procurements. Effectively, if a procurement has commenced (i.e. a contract notice has been issued) then it is our understanding that the procurement will continue to run in accordance with The Public Contracts Regulations (2015) and EU law. Put simply, procurements will continue to exist under the same procedural and substantive policies as the ones that were in effect at the time of their commencement.
We will write more about the likely situation post the transition period once the situation becomes clearer, but in the meantime if you have any questions regarding how this will impact your business then please feel free to give us a call.
On the 13/09/2018, the Department for Exiting the EU published a technical notice entitled ‘Accessing Public Sector Contracts if there’s No Brexit Deal’. This Department has been publishing a series of technical notices to help businesses, citizens and the wider government understand the implications of a ‘no deal’ outcome in March 2019.
The possibility of a ‘no deal’ scenario in March 2019 has been a cause for great concern for many businesses. While a ‘no deal’ exit will certainly have a major impact on many businesses, the systems and processes for accessing public sector contracts will remain largely the same.
Below, we have outlined what accessing public sector contracts is likely to entail in the event of a ‘no deal’ outcome. We hope, and suspect, that this will put our customers’ minds at ease (regarding this point at least).
In the event of a ‘no deal’ outcome in March 2019, the government has stated that a replacement UK-specific e-notification service will be made available. For procuring authorities, this may necessitate a steep learning curve and its introduction may be complicated.
However, for the average British supplier to the public sector, very little will change and what minor differences there are can be overcome via simple workarounds.
Currently, the majority of all English public sector contracts valued over £10,000 for Central Contracting Authorities and £25,000 for Sub Central Contracting Authorities and NHS Trusts are published on Contracts Finder. This will not change. Suppliers looking for smaller sized contracts in the UK will continue to be able to use Contracts Finder (for procurements in England), Public Contracts Scotland (for procurements in Scotland), Sell2Wales (for procurements in Wales) and eTendersNI (for procurements in Northern Ireland).
Effectively, all UK contracts will continue to be published and will be available to anybody seeking access, entirely free of charge.
If British suppliers wish to sell their services internationally, then they will continue to be able to use Tenders Electronic Daily (TED) to do so. It is possible that English contracts will no longer be published on TED. If this is the case, the simple solution for suppliers is to ensure that they are correctly registered on Contracts Finder so that they can use that platform for English tenders. For those wishing to access European tenders, we would recommend setting up a search on TED, as per usual. It is worth noting that both TED and Contracts Finder are free of charge.
In the event that we do fall out of the EU, the technical notice confirms that the UK aims to accede to the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA). The UK currently participates in the GPA by virtue of its EU membership. Readers who currently use TED will notice that procurements that are applicable to the WTO rules and regulations are already signposted on all Tender Europa procurements. Each tender notice will feature a question on GPA coverage and will provide a clear ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer. In the vast majority of cases, the answer is ‘Yes’, which means that the impact of acceding to the WTO agreement will be minimal for most companies seeking to access public sector tenders.
What may change, in the long-term, concerns the publishing in English on TED. Currently, TED publishes international tender notices with a full tender notice in the language of the contracting body’s country with a briefer summary in all other official EU languages. Once we leave the EU the TED team may no longer provide an English translation.
We fully appreciate that a ‘no deal’ outcome is likely to have a substantial impact on many areas of our customers’ businesses. However, with respect to the technical notice published by the Department for Exiting the EU, we would like to assure readers that there is little cause for concern regarding accessing public sector contracts post-Brexit.
NewBusiness.Dev are delighted to welcome Richard Crade to our team as our new Executive Advisor.
Recently employed as Public Sector Business Development Director at NTT DATA UK, Richard is known for his impressive talent for managing teams, developing long-term client relationships and devising client-focused value propositions. He will act as an Executive Advisor for our customers, assisting them with business development and sales opportunity matters.
Richard has an excellent track record of success in the ICT industry. At Bull Information Systems, Richard won new business at the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, taking that account to the largest in the UK business over several years. When Steria acquired Bull, Richard became Business Unit Director for their UK Managed Services business with 900 staff in IT infrastructure implementation and outsourcing contracts across all markets reporting to the UK CEO with full P&L responsibility for 70% of Steria’s UK revenues.
After a brief time at EDS where he was engagement lead for a £500m Managed Services bid to the Department for Constitutional Affairs, he was recruited to help IBM win more business in the public sector. Richard spent 7 years at IBM developing major opportunities, creating market strategy, coordinating multiple lines of business and coaching deal teams. As well as his initial public sector role, Richard took the global lead role on major $200m deal with a Swiss based pharmaceutical company for cloud hosting and application migration and supported Strategic Outsourcing in the Nordics to significantly improve the quality of their client propositions.
In 2013, NTT Data UK offered Richard the role of Business Development Director for the Public Sector. During his five years of employment with NTT, Richard won a number of contracts including the prestigious Core IT Services contract at HM Treasury, a multi-year managed service valued to date at ~£30m).
We are fortunate to have worked with Richard on a number of multi-million-pound tenders. Given his experience and expertise, we are certain that Richard will be an invaluable member of the NewBusiness.Dev team.
Corporate Software Solutions, RM1042 (expires in October 2018) and Local Authority Software Applications, RM1059 (expires in August 2018) will both be replaced by a single agreement framework – Data and Application Solutions (RM3821).
The contract notice for RM3821 was published by Crown Commercial Service on the 5th July 2018. Submission will be on the 6th August.
The framework will be established for 24 months with the option for it to be extended for a maximum of a further 24 months in 12-month stages (in years 2 + 1 + 1).
The Data and Application Solutions (DAS) framework targets the Enterprise Applications and the Information Management segment of UK Public Sector. It will establish appropriate contracting routes to meet common hardware, software and services requirements for use by UK public sector bodies; this includes Central Government Departments and their Arm’s Length Bodies and Agencies, Non-Departmental Public Bodies, Police, Emergency Services, Education Sector, NHS bodies and Local Authorities.
There are 14 lots spanning specific solutions for Enterprise Data and Applications, Local Government, Health and Social Care, Police and Emergency Service, and Education. In summary, they are:
- Lot 1a – Resource Planning and Management Solutions including Financial and Commercial
- Lot 1b – Workflow & Case Management Solutions
- Lot 1c – Data Collection, Storage & Management
- Lot 1d – Data Intelligence & Analytics
- Lot 2a – Business Applications
- Lot 2b – Environmental & Planning
- Lot 2c – Citizen Services
- Lot 3a – Enterprise Applications for Health
- Lot 3b – Health Information Management
- Lot 3c – Community Health & Social Care
- Lot 4a – Blue Light Operations
- Lot 4b – Blue Light Data & Information Management
- Lot 5a – Learning Applications & Platforms
- Lot 5b – Academic Scheduling & Management Solutions
NewBusiness.Dev have an exceptional track record of helping customers to secure places on Crown Commercial Service agreements (see 9 OUT OF 9) and helped Redfern, a Bradford based SME, win the £800m+ Crown Commercial Service Travel Contract three times in a row (please read the article here).
If you would like a helping hand to win a place on this framework then please call +44 (0)207 960 2801 (or out of hours on 07950 396 205).
Sellers: Getting Started
All supplier applications go through the Digital Marketplace. To apply, you must:
- Create, or log into, a supplier account on the Digital Marketplace.
- Start your G-Cloud application.
- Make the supplier declaration on the Digital Marketplace.
- agree to the framework terms
- confirm how you’ll work with government
- answer questions to establish grounds for mandatory exclusion
- answer questions to establish grounds for discretionary exclusion
- provide information about your organisation
- Add service information on the Digital Marketplace.
- 50 words to introduce your service
- 100 words to describe up to 10 service benefits (10 words per benefit), for example simplified system maintenance
- 100 words to describe up to 10 service features (10 words per feature), for example real-time reporting
- You’ll also have your own supplier page where you have 50 words to describe your organisation.
- Before you can submit a cloud service to the Digital Marketplace, you need to add a: pricing document, terms and conditions (specific to that service) document
- Wait for eligibility checks to be made on your information.
- Get the result of your application.
- Sign and return your framework agreement on the Digital Marketplace.
But the G-Cloud is a relatively new route to market, with different buying groups, buying behaviours and competition. It contains a number of novel contractual clauses and commercial obligations and even the style of registration is different to what suppliers may be used to. As such, new and existing suppliers may find it difficult to get to grips with the challenges involved and often neglect to fully think through the opportunities and challenges that the G-Cloud can present to their business.
Thus far, less than 30% of the companies listed on the G-Cloud have made sales and the statistics are even less promising for companies that have registered recently, with four in five G-Cloud 9 suppliers yet to transact a single deal. Which leads us to a very important question; why then have the top five companies on G-Cloud achieved cumulative sales of over £400m between them? What sets these companies apart? Quite simply, they provide services that customers are interested in purchasing and, perhaps less obviously, they have taken the time and effort to optimise their listings. They dovetail their G-Cloud strategy into their overall sales and marketing plan. One of the issues with G-Cloud is that it is deceptively easy to register, which perpetuates a misconception that establishing a successful listing requires little to no effort. This is not the case. But how do you create a successful listing?
We can help with that. NewBusiness.Dev offer end-to-end services or help with specific aspects of the procurement process. We employ a team of expert bid writers, G-Cloud Consultants and Public Sector Procurement Specialists with extensive experience. If you would like more information regarding our bid management and Cloud services, drop us a line.
We would recommend reading the G-Cloud suppliers’ guide to learn more about selling cloud technology, how to register and how to apply. The G-Cloud is expected to open for new suppliers to register their services in April. You can keep up-to-date with the latest news from the Digital Market Place team or just contact us and we will let you know what you have to do and when.
How Does It Work?
Hoping to sell on the G-Cloud? Great! But to go fishing, you have to know what you’re fishing for, so it’s important that you understand how buyers buy before you make any attempt to sell to them. Some public sector bodies will still be new to buying and, as such, you may need to explain the process to them. Displaying a thorough understanding of the buying and selling process may well put you at an advantage over other competitors.
For ease of understanding, let’s start simple and take a look at an analogy. Everyone knows eBay and almost everyone has bought from it, which aptly serves the purposes of this guide because the process of buying from eBay is very much like the process of buying from the G-Cloud. Let us take a specific example:
- Step One: You hope to buy a vase.
- Step Two: You search for the vase on eBay, applying filters to specify price range, material, etc.
- Step Three: You shortlist the results to five vase suppliers.
- Step Four: You consider each of them individually to ensure that you get the best value for your money. The first vase does not suit the style you were hoping to procure. The second is shipped from China and the delivery time is too long. The third is too expensive. The fourth is made from the wrong material. And the fifth is perfect.
- Step Five: Having considered all your options, you purchase the fifth vase.
While this is certainly a simplification, it captures the G-Cloud buying process in a clear and accessible way. The crucial difference is that, on the G-Cloud, buyers must be fair to all suppliers and be able to justify their final decision.
Despite the simplicity of the eBay analogy, it is worth noting at this stage that no procurement process will ever be entirely free of complexity. Just as the traditional procurement process required a period of adjustment, understanding all of G-Cloud’s features will take time. But this is time well-spent. Remember, G-Cloud is a programme characterised by its simplicity, flexibility and time-efficiency and, as such, tackling its learning curve will reap exponential benefits. If you’d like to mitigate the learning curve, consider business management and bid writing services. This is our area expertise and we would be keen to offer you our cloud and tender writing services. If you’d like more information on how we can help you execute a successful G-Cloud bid, we’d love to hear from you.
So, what are your potential customers buying from the G-Cloud? Buyers seeking to procure Cloud Hosting, Software or Support, can do so through the Digital Marketplace which is the front-end portal through which they can shop for G-Cloud products or services. The Digital Marketplace helps buyers find suppliers for specialist services for digital projects and cloud technology. These services can be procured through three frameworks:
- cloud services (e.g. accounting software) can be procured through the G-Cloud framework
- digital outcomes, specialists and user research services can be procured through the Digital Outcomes and Specialists framework
- physical datacentre space can be procured through the Crown Hosting Data Centres framework
One of the major benefits of the G-Cloud is that it is a OJEU compliant framework. But what does this mean? It means that any public sector buyer can buy from the G-Cloud without needing to execute a full-fledged procurement. However, one critical element for buyers to remember is that G-Cloud does not allow for mini-tenders. Buyers can, however, contact suppliers directly outlining their requirements and requesting clarification on how the supplier would hope to approach the project, to include cost and timeframes. In effect, these clarification requests serve a very similar purpose to that of a mini-tender.
Via the Digital Marketplace, buyers are able to perform a keyword search. They can apply filters to the search to specify a wide variety of criteria including supplier type, user support, staff security clearance, minimum government security clearance and pricing. The search will then produce a list of suppliers registered to the framework who can meet the buyer’s requirements. One of the most notable features of G-Cloud is that all registered suppliers have pre-authenticated information about their company and the way they work, which saves buyers time during the procurement process. We have summarised the buying cycles below.
It is important to remember that G-Cloud requires buyers to consider every supplier equally and fairly, to facilitate equal opportunity in the marketplace. This entails performing a comprehensive analysis of what the market can offer by undertaking a meticulous shopping experience on the G-Cloud; this also requires buyers to maintain a record of each of the steps they have taken so that they can justify their final decision. Tools and Templates are available to support this.
The steps in the buying process are as follows:
- Write a list of your requirements and get approval to buy what you need.
- Search for services and save your search.
- Refine your saved search using the filters.
- End your search.
- Download your search results, review and compare services.
- Choose your service, award and sign the contract (or ‘call-off’).
- Publish the contract on Contracts Finder.
- Complete the Customer Benefits Record form.
Buyers must treat all suppliers equally. As such, if only one supplier meets a buyer’s needs, then they can award the contract to them without taking any further measures. However, it is typical that a buyer will have to draft a shortlist of suppliers. In this case, the buyer is required to choose the supplier with the most economically advantageous tender. Otherwise known as MEAT.
“The process of evaluating suppliers and their services was straightforward. We looked at the services available through the Digital Marketplace and used the filter system to get to our short list. The process took around 3 hours. Then we issued an invitation to tender (ITT) to those shortlisted suppliers. One of the benefits of buying through the Digital Marketplace is that buyers are able to reduce the time the ITT is open for.”
- Stephen Perrins, Category Manager Contracts for ICT, Protective Services, County Policing Command, Criminal Justice at Suffolk and Norfolk Constabulary
If you would like to make more money from your G-Cloud listings or are looking to take a listing for the first time then please do get in touch. Our team are experts in how the G-Cloud functions and how best to position our client’s services for success. Our G-Cloud services include:
- G-Cloud briefings for management teams of companies considering taking a G-Cloud listing for the first time.
- Seminars for sales teams to teach them about the G-Cloud and how to win more sales in the new G-Cloud regime.
- Optimising existing or new service portfolios to rapidly increase sales and market share.