Guide

Tender for public sector contracts in Great Britain and Ireland

The procurement process

When bidding for a public sector contract you'll probably have to go through an official procurement process with a set timetable. The more the contract is worth, the more time-consuming the process is likely to be.

Complex projects are negotiated under the competitive dialogue procedure, which may take longer than the set timetable process.

Procurement stages

It's essential to give all the information required and to meet the relevant deadlines at each stage of the process.

Once you have identified a potential contract, assess whether your business can carry it out - and whether it makes financial sense to do so. Contact the relevant organisation for more information on what the contract involves.

Some contracts involve a formal Expression of Interest - a pre-qualification stage used to identify realistic candidates for the contract. You may be asked for information about the financial position of your business and details of your experience and references.

Download a model pre-qualification questionnaire (PDF, 585K).

If you get through the pre-qualification stage, you may then receive an Invitation to Tender or contract notice inviting you to bid for the contract.

These bid documents set out the key criteria you need to meet, and tell you how to submit your tender. You'll need to show that you can fulfil the contract and meet all the client's needs. Make sure at all stages that you give responses for each question you are asked. If you are unable to complete all the questions, contact the organisation to discuss this.

Pricing

Contracts are awarded on the basis of value for money - which means getting the right balance between the price and quality of the product or service being offered. It can also involve factors such as lifetime costs and maintenance arrangements.

Remember that the price you offer in a tender will be binding if your bid is successful.

Freedom of information

Remember that all contracts with public bodies are subject to the Freedom of Information Act and information must be disclosed to anyone who asks for it, unless it is exempt (for example, as a trade secret). 

Therefore, when you provide information to a public body, you should clearly indicate which information is commercially confidential. If the information is particularly sensitive, you might want to ask for a non-disclosure agreement to be part of any negotiations.

If you're unsuccessful in a tender and want to find out why, public sector bodies must give you feedback within 20 working days if requested. Information about the contract is subject to the Freedom of Information Act, so that you have a right to ask for detailed information about the bidding process - but you may have to pay for it.