There may be opportunities for your business to provide goods, works or services to the public sector, either through a direct contract or by becoming a sub-contractor. The main benefits of supplying to public sector customers are that they:
- are long-standing and stable
- will usually pay you promptly
- decide which supplier to use on a fair and open basis
- undertake procurement in accordance with publicly available regulations
The public sector includes:
- local authorities
- the NHS
- universities and colleges
- UK Government departments and agencies
- devolved administrations, including the Welsh Government
In addition to using Sell2Wales there are various ways to search for public sector contracts.
See Part 3 in this guide on searching for public and private sector contracts.
2. Using Sell2Wales
Sell2Wales is a free online service to help you find information about contracts and opportunities with the Welsh public service and Buyer-Contractors. (This is a main contractor who has won a public sector contract and can sub-contract opportunities out to other businesses from the contract).
When registered, you can use Sell2Wales to:
- search for current opportunities
- receive alerts for new opportunities and RFQ's (requests for quotes)
- link to other portals as well as Sell2Wales to conduct your tenders
- use the online postbox to submit responses
- view PIN's (Prior information notices) and future opportunities
- look up details of previous tenders and contracts
- seek and respond to sub-contract opportunities
- find contact information and profiles of public bodies
- search latest procurement news and events
Sell2Wales has details of:
- low value contracts (below the threshold for advertising across the EU)
- higher-value contracts (requiring advertisement across the EU)
- sub-contracting opportunities - contracts from buyer-contractors who have won public sector contracts
Each contract notice will have:
- a short description of what the Buyer wants, the value of the contract and other relevant information
- details of the deadline for responding
- details of who to contact or where to find further information
- attached tender documents (in some cases)
These notices give early notice of potential projects and enable Suppliers to have early engagement with public bodies before the procurement formally commences.
Sell2Wales also has details of awarded contracts, ie when the tendering process has finished.
You can find:
- who the contract was awarded to
- the value of the contract
- the criteria used to select the supplier
- whether or not the supplier(s) may sub-contract some of the work
Get started on Sell2Wales
Register online for free and start using Sell2Wales.
(Please be aware of the importance of getting your profile right as this is essential for you to receive the correct notice opportunities and for Buyers to know exactly what services you provide and where you are willing to provide these).
3. Searching for public and private sector contracts
You can find out about private sector contracts through:
- advertisements in local and national newspapers, trade and professional magazines
- researching contracts outside your business sector which may produce secondary contracts for you, eg if a new office block is built, it will need carpets, desks, signage, stationery and cleaning etc
- networking and liaising with other businesses
- researching and building contacts with potential customers
- following up press and other reports - a company may be expanding or sub-contracting part of a big order
As well as using Sell2Wales, you can also find out about public sector opportunities by:
- searching for contract notices in newspapers and trade magazines
- searching for high-value public sector contracts in other European Union (EU) countries on the Tenders Electronic Daily (TED) website
- contacting the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI), which provides funding for new products
- contacting your local Enterprise Europe Network on the Enterprise Europe Network website
- viewing police and emergency services opportunities on the bluelight website
- visiting the NHS Wales website for NHS procurement
For tendering opportunities in England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland see:
- Contracts Finder for opportunities with the UK Government
- Public Contracts Scotland for opportunities with public sector bodies in Scotland
- eSourcing NI for opportunities with public sector bodies in Northern Ireland
4. The procurement process
Public Procurement has to be undertaken in accordance with the requirements of the EU Procurement regulations. For example, competitive tenders over certain thresholds cannot be awarded to businesses only based on their geographic location. Buyers have to abide by rules that are non-discriminatory to others to ensure a fair and transparent process is followed.
You can find further information about thresholds here.
In each of the procedures there are minimum timescales laid down regarding publication of notices, invitation of tenders, receipt of documentation etc. Please take into account the complexity of the contract and the time required for drawing up tenders when submitting yours.
The minimum timescales vary with the procedure used and are included in the following 5 procurement procedures for public sector tenders above the EU thresholds:
1. Open Procedure
This is a formal tendering process and any supplier interested in submitting a tender may do so. You can request tender documents through the Invitation to Tender (ITT) and submit a response - usually within 52 days to an advertised contract notice. See the page in this guide on the tendering process.
2. Restricted Procedure
This is a two-stage process allowing you to undertake a selection process to be short-listed before being sent any tender documents. You will need to state your expression of interest by completing a pre-qualification questionnaire and this usually takes a minimum of 37 days. See the page in this guide on the tendering process.
In the second stage, shortlisted suppliers are invited to respond to an ITT. See the page in this guide on the tendering process. These restricted tenders are then evaluated and the contract is awarded. You usually have a minimum of 40 days to submit your tenders.
Please note that the above timescales may be reduced when tendering electronically. There is also usually a standstill period between the contract award decision and the formal award of the contract and the timescale can vary.
3. Competitive Dialogue
This procedure is available for complex procurements when it’s considered that neither the Open or Restricted procedures will allow for the award of the Contract. Because the Buyer is unable to produce a complete ITT/requirement specification they discuss their needs with selected suppliers to work up a detailed solution.
This procedure allows Buyers to enter into dialogue with selected suppliers which is flexible and may include written submissions and interviews. At the end of the dialogue, chosen suppliers are asked to submit their tenders.
4. Negotiated Procedure
This procedure allows Buyers to consult with pre-qualified Suppliers and negotiate the terms of the contract and is only used in exceptional circumstances, such as:
- in cases of extreme urgency
- when a supplier is the sole source of the goods or service required
- when the precise specification can only be determined by negotiation
5. Dynamic Purchasing System
A Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS) is a completely electronic system which can be established for the purchase of commonly used goods, services or works and has a limited lifespan.
A DPS can only be established using the rules of the Open Procedure and if you meet the selection criteria you can submit a tender explaining how you meet requirements. This can be at any time during the life span of the contract as it has to remain open and if you comply with the specification you can be accepted.
5. Types of contract
The following are the main types of contract you may see in public sector procurement:
One-off purchases – used for short-term agreements to supply goods and services to meet an individual requirement.
Framework agreement – this is an arrangement between one or more Buyers and one or more Suppliers which establishes the terms (such as price and quality) under which the supplier may enter into future contracts with the Buyer. Framework agreements create no obligation on the Buyer to actually buy anything.
They can be established using the Open, Restricted, Negotiated or Competitive Dialogue procedures. Buyers invite potential suppliers to put themselves forward for the framework and chose the one(s) most able to do the work. This allows agreed specifications, delivery terms, prices, and terms and conditions of contract without the need to use a full tender process each time
Once the framework is set up, individual contracts are made throughout the period of the agreement, which typically is up to a maximum of 4 years. If there’s more than one suitable Supplier on the framework, a 'mini-competition' may be held to decide who gets the contract.
Call-off contracts – used for supplying a specific quantity of goods or services over a given time period. Delivery is either made via a delivery schedule or by separate ‘call-off’ orders placed against the contract. Similar to a framework agreement except that it is a legally binding contract with the supplier to purchase goods and services.
Term contracts – used for contracts that operate over a specified period of time.
Sub-contracting – used for suppliers that will delegate part of a contract to another contractor, as many of the higher-value government contracts go to large companies. However, smaller businesses can still sub-contract with these companies and can form a consortium with other Suppliers to agree to work together to tender for these contracts or to deliver other public services.
6. The tendering process
The public sector and buyers source products, works and services by using the following process:
Define the procurement strategy - the Buyer defines its aims, decides what is needed, and then decides how the procurement exercise will be carried out. This includes choosing the contract type and the procurement procedure.
Invite tenders - the Buyer invites interest from suppliers, for example through Sell2wales. In some cases, you’ll have to pre-qualify (see Pre-Qualification Questionnaire PQQ) before being invited to tender (see Invitation to Tender (ITT). Increasingly, public bodies will require you to submit your tenders electronically.
Evaluate and clarify tenders - the Buyer evaluates the tenders against set criteria for example, in terms of price, technical specifications and project management proposals. This period may involve questions and answers from both sides before the contract is awarded.
Award the contract - the Buyer awards the contract to the Supplier whose bid is the most economically advantageous in relation to price, technical specifications and project management proposals.
Manage the contract - the Supplier and the Buyer manage the contract and the Supplier’s performance is checked and monitored by the organisation. As a Supplier it is important to understand the Buyers needs for your management and delivery of a successful contract.
Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ)
PQQs are used by the public sector as the first stage in a restricted, competitive dialogue or negotiated tender process.
The PQQ allows the Buyer to identify those suppliers that are capable of delivering the contract in question. In Wales, the Supplier Qualification Information Database (SQuID) approach is promoted as the standard approach to developing PQQs and asks suppliers questions based around the following criteria:
- supplier acceptability
- economic/financial standing
- capacity and capability
- equal opportunities
- health and safety
Find out more about SQuID on the Welsh Government website
Please make sure you:
- take your time and read through the PQQ carefully
- follow the guidance notes and instructions thoroughly (ie don’t exceed the maximum number of words you use to respond)
- provide relevant answers backed up with evidence (ie include case studies and references where these will be accepted)
- do not provide copies of company policies or any other documentation unless specifically requested to do so
- contact the organisation if you are unsure about anything
- explain why you can’t provide an answer for a question
- ensure that your response is detailed, clearly laid out and easy to follow (eg same font size, use of bullet points)
- obtain feedback if you’re unsuccessful to help with future tenders
The most common complaint that buyers make about PQQs they receive is that suppliers have not read the questions thoroughly or not provided the information requested.
Business Wales - Tendering can give you further advice and support when preparing a PQQ. They also host workshops to support businesses in understanding 'Sell2Wales and 'How to Tender' and you can book here.
If your PQQ is successful, you will be sent an invitation to tender.
Receiving an ITT allows you to submit your bid for a tender.
You’ll only be sent the ITT documents if you’ve applied for them directly as part of an open procedure, or following a pre-qualification process (see PQQ) as part of a restricted, competitive dialogue or negotiated procedure. The information in the ITT documents usually includes:
- a formal letter of invitation to tender
- background information
- instructions – including deadline and submission requirements
- specification – details of what’s being purchased, including any special product or service requirements
- pricing and delivery schedule templates
- terms and conditions of the buyer
- award (and selection if Open Procedure) criteria
Ask questions if you are unsure about any aspect of the requirements and expectations in the ITT. Answers are usually shared with other suppliers who are also tendering so it is important to consider all questions and answers asked as there may be further information for you to consider.
You will have a limited period of time so read everything carefully, ensure your responses cover everything required and follow instructions as directed.
If you decide that you will not respond to an ITT, let the buyer know. It’s common courtesy, it helps them gauge responses and they may be an important future customer.
Business Wales - Tendering can give you further advice and support when preparing an ITT. They also host workshops to support businesses in understanding 'Sell2Wales and 'How to Tender' and you can book here.
Getting feedback on unsuccessful tenders
If you’re unsuccessful in a tender and want to find out why, public sector organisations are obliged to give you feedback. You should use the opportunity to receive feedback to understand where you can strengthen your tender submissions to improve your chances of winning future contracts.
7. Disclosing information in your tender
When you’re writing your tender, you’ll need to decide whether any information in it is commercially sensitive.
Freedom of Information Act
All contracts with public bodies are subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
This means that information in your tender must be disclosed to anyone who asks for it, unless it’s exempt (for example, if it’s a trade secret). This gives anyone, including your competitors, the general right to see information held by public authorities – including the information in your tender.
You should clearly indicate if any of your information is commercially confidential. If it is, then you should ask for a non-disclosure agreement.