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Thornton & Lowe provides expert bid writing and strategy services for a range of businesses to win Public Sector contracts. On average, we complete over 400 bids and tenders every year for our clients, including Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs), with a success rate of over 75%. We have a team of directly employed professionals who work across the UK to maximise our client’s success.
In addition to our Bid Management team, at Thornton & Lowe we also benefit from the vast wealth of experience of our Bid Resource and Bid Training divisions. We really ARE experts in our field. Here is our Ultimate Guide to Bid Writing.
As public-sector experts, we’ve produced a number of comprehensive guides to navigating and winning work within the sector, including:
The National Careers Service defines a Bid Writer’s role as preparing ‘documents used to pitch for contracts to provide services, or to apply for project funding’.
However, bid writing encompasses much more than this. We see bid writing (and Bid Writers) as key within the Sales and Marketing function for any business involved in formal tenders or contract opportunities.
Ultimately, it involves the creation of persuasive written content and proposals for responding to formal tender opportunities.
For some organisations, this sits within a larger bid team with Bid Support, Senior Bid Writers, Bid Managers, Work Winning Managers, Capture Managers and Bid Directors.
However, for other businesses, the bid writing and management of the bid process belongs to the Senior Management Team or is dispersed across regional sales staff.
Bid writing is a key skill in an emerging market due to the increasing requirements for value for money, accountability and transparency in public sector contracting authorities and private sector buyers.
As a result, more robust procurement rules and procedures are in use, and formal tenders have led to an increased need for a bid and tender solution.
This solution usually comes in the form of directly employed bid professionals, which we supply through our Bid Resource division or through the training of existing staff in bid writing.
It is important to note that bidding is much more than just writing answers to questions and providing information. It is a continuous cycle, with continuous improvement opportunities throughout!
You, therefore, have the opportunity to review and build on previous tenders to have the best chance of success.
You might be thinking, why would you need to take part in a tendering process to win work in the public sector?
This is because, according to UK Government legislation, work must be put to tender in a competitive bidding process when certain financial thresholds are met in terms of contract value. Once the need for a competitive tender process has been established, the procurement process is then initiated.
Procurement can be defined as the process of acquiring goods, works and services from third parties or in-house providers. Procurement is achieved through a tendering or competitive bidding process. It is used to ensure that the buyer receives goods, services or works at the best price possible.
The process, shown below, spans the whole life cycle from the identification of needs through to the end of a services contract.
With over £300 billion worth of services being procured each year, Public Sector procurement needs to be monitored to ensure transparency, deliver value for money, drive competition and reduce fraud, as well as help the Public Sector to become more cost-effective and efficient during a period of reduced public expenditure.
In the UK, it is underpinned by key legislation, which includes the following:
Post-Brexit, the UK’s public procurement system is undergoing a mass transformation, stepping away from the European Union’s (EU) OJEU jurisdiction and towards UK-based “Find a Tender” and continuity of Public Contract Regulations 2015 (PCR 2015).
Recent key changes to public procurement legislation have included the issue of Public Procurement Notice 03/23 and the upcoming "Transforming Public Procurement initiative.”
To understand the current changes and evolutions in the procurement system, see our blog articles:
There are multiple benefits arising out of the new updates, including:
Although the UK is no longer a participant in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU), it's important to recognise that the OJEU remains significant for EU member states and other countries engaged in EU procurement processes. UK businesses can continue to explore EU procurement possibilities by keeping track of the OJEU, allowing them to compete for contracts within the EU market.
For companies seeking procurement opportunities in the EU, the updated 2023 thresholds are below:
Supply, services and design contracts
Social and other specific services
Other contracting authorities
Utilities contracts: Contracts that operate within the energy, water, and transportation sectors
Supply, services and design contracts
Social and other specific services
Defence and security contracts: For opportunities contracted by entities related to defence and security
Supply, services and design contracts
Social and other specific services
Defence and security authorities
Concession contracts: Concessions are contracts entered into for financial gain, whereby one or more contracting authorities or entities assign the implementation of works or the provision and management of services to one or more economic operators
Many businesses who are new to bid writing and tendering have not seen a completed tender response or bid before an ‘example bid’.
As a result, these businesses struggle to know what information should be included and therefore what their response should say and look like.
To submit a successful bid, you need to be aware of the criteria that you need to hit. Below, we have outlined the critical components of successful bid submissions:
How do you find the right tender?
To help you find the right tender to bid for, opportunities are listed on the Government websites, Find a Tender and Contracts Finder. You can use the Find a Tender service to search and apply for high-value contracts in the UK’s public and utilities sectors.
High-value contracts are usually above £138,760, including VAT.
However, we recognise that these can be difficult to navigate and keep track of, which is why we recommend using our free-to-use Tender Pipeline.
Our innovative software is totally free, allowing users to monitor tenders, contract awards, set up regular tender email alerts and monitor competitor activity.
You can simply search for the service you provide e.g ‘legal service’ and your location – e.g. ‘UK’, or on the advanced search, you can search via the CPV code (common procurement vocabulary) – start typing your service area and you will find the code really easily. You can then set up alerts for relevant tenders.
Opportunities for private contract award are harder to find, as private organisations are not required to advertise opportunities publicly. This means that unless you are known to the buyers, or in the right place at the right time, you may be missing out on countless opportunities.
Before you proceed, make sure you’ve implemented a ‘bid/no-bid' process to determine whether the opportunity is right for your business.
There are multiple things you should consider before proceeding.
For example, is the bid winnable? Who is the incumbent, what do you know about them and can you offer a solution which has a chance of topping theirs? To help you determine this and be ‘competitor intelligent’, we would recommend completing a Strengths, Weaknesses, Threats and Opportunities (SWOT) analysis before proceeding to bid for the tender.
If you know that the price is 70% of the evaluation score and you are more expensive than the incumbent (who typically performs well), you need to assess if it’s worth proceeding.
You might also want to consider, is the deadline achievable, can you deliver all the elements of the service, and does the tender require you to provide accreditations/references which you may not currently have?
Answering these questions will allow you to make a formal ‘bid’ or ‘no-bid’ decision with confidence!
As proposal/tender writing is time and resource-consuming, it makes sense to check your eligibility to bid to avoid disappointment after the evaluation.
As such, the first thing you need to do with any tender is to check that you are eligible to apply.
There are several ways you can do this, including:
Depending on the questions being asked, you will need to formulate a clear win strategy and identify any potential weaknesses in your service/solution. Given the competitive nature of tenders across all industries, we recommend that you evaluate your position against your competitors and pin down key Win Themes/USPs.
Buyers will likely want to understand how you have delivered high-quality services to clients in the past. Therefore, start thinking about what evidence, examples and client testimonials you will draw upon to demonstrate your expertise.
Read the whole set of tender documents!
Another key part of bid preparation is to make you fully understand the buyer’s requirements. To win a tender, it is essential to understand the scope of the contract and the customer's expectations. Bidders should consider and review the following elements when preparing a winning bid.
Research the customer to understand their expectations, preferences and requirements. Take the time to learn about their needs, budget, and timelines. Doing this will help you create a proposal that meets their specific needs.
To ensure your responses or proposal looks professional, consistent and readable, good bid management starts with a set house writing style. This should ensure that each bid you put in for a tender will have the same professional look and the right tone.
It’s important to get this bid writing style nailed down early on. This includes not just font choice and layouts but the style of language you are going to use. In general, it’s best to avoid long sentences and complicated jargon. Based on Thornton and Lowe’s proven tender-winning approach, some key features of our own house style include:
Your house style obviously always needs to be compliant with any formatting/style requirements the buyer outlines within the ITT. As such, be prepared to adapt your house style where necessary.
While this will vary depending on services required, the ITT may follow a strict format and include several compliance criteria that must be adhered to. To make sure you don’t fall at the first hurdle, make sure you review the ITT to understand:
It is vital to read the questions carefully and fully understand the specifications, as failure to answer clearly in any section can cost you the bid.
When responding to the ITT, it’s important not to jump ‘feet first’ into the method statement writing stage. Instead, your bid team should work collaboratively to plan out and storyboard each response. What does this involve?
Essentially, you need to set out a structure and a content plan for each response. This should be based on addressing every single element of the question alongside the evaluation criteria. This will ensure you know what to do to achieve an excellent score whilst hitting the compliance criteria for each response.
To save time, of course, you might use some standard collateral for common questions that come up in public sector bids. This would include common subjects such as Health and Safety, Quality, Data Protection and Equality and Diversity. It’s important, however, to always tailor generic collateral to the buyer’s requirements and expectations.
Focus on whether it really answers the question, rather than simply cutting and pasting it into the document.
Key things to keep in mind when preparing your method statements include:
Before you submit your responses, we would recommend carrying out an in-depth Quality Assurance (QA) and review process.
The best way to do this is to assign a reviewer (not the writer), ideally a subject-matter-expert, to analyse the written responses and provide feedback/comments to challenge the content.
The aim of the QA should be to:
Based on the QA/review, the writer can then action the comments to produce an even stronger final draft.
Social Value is almost invariably built into any tender. In fact, increasingly the Social Value element within bids is accounting for 10-20% of the overall evaluation score. This is about demonstrating your commitment to leaving a positive legacy that extends beyond the contract.
You may be asked to outline your commitment to delivering Apprenticeships, taking part in outreach projects or demonstrating your record on carbon reduction.
When offering Social Value pledges, ensure they are relevant to the work you are providing and linked with the buyer’s own Social Value strategy and hot buttons. Doing research into this will help you to deliver a strong Social Value proposal.
Cyber Essentials is a government-backed accreditation which provides a framework for implementing and maintaining best practice cyber security and data protection practices.
As Cyber Essentials accreditations are becoming a more regular requirement for tenders, make sure you check the eligibility criteria of the tender to determine whether this is required.
If you don’t have the accreditation but want to proceed with a bid, there might be an option for you to commit to achieving the standard by contract award. If in doubt, ask the buyer a Clarification Question.
Following the recent COP27, several governmental commitments were made with the aim of drastically reducing the emissions of methane and carbon throughout the UK.
An onus has now been placed on individual businesses to take responsibility for achieving these new targets.
As such, be prepared to provide your organisation’s documented Carbon Reduction Plan (CRP) as part of your submission. You’ll need to make you’ve followed the published reporting standard for CRPs and the GHG Protocol Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard.
As well as outlining your net zero commitment, your CRP needs to outline your baseline emissions and reductions targets across:
Evaluation criteria are standards that are used to assess how well a supplier bid meets an authority’s requirement during a procurement process. All evaluation criteria must be linked to the subject matter of the contract. There are two types of evaluation criteria which are called ‘Selection’ Criteria and ‘Award’ Criteria:
These are two distinct stages which are normally evaluated separately.
For example, if the Standard Selection Questionnaire (SSQ) requests suppliers' evidence a Risk Management Policy as a minimum standard for selection, the award criteria for the quality evaluation may request suppliers demonstrate how they will apply their risk management policy to identify and manage the risks associated with the contract.
Assessment of supplier responses to the evaluation criteria is made solely on the information that suppliers provide in either their SSQ or written bids in response to an Invitation To Tender (ITT).
No decisions should be made on previous experience or knowledge of working with a supplier in the past.
All questions should have a sound purpose, help make an assessment of supplier suitability, and be underpinned by a defined method of scoring which can be pre-published to the supplier.
In order to select suppliers for tender stage, a Standard Selection Questionnaire (SSQ) is often used which contains selection criteria covering supplier legal and organisational status, economic and financial standing and elements of technical and professional ability.
Additional selection criteria may be added to cover other aspects relevant to the contract requirements, such as Risk Management, Health and Safety, Quality Assurance, Environmental Management, Diversity and Equality, Professional Capacity.
If you are successful at SSQ stage you will be short-listed for tender stage and will receive an Invitation to Tender (ITT) for the goods or services.
The Invitation to Tender (ITT) sets out the methodology that the authority will employ in evaluating a supplier’s price, written bid submissions and any presentations, in response to the specification and award criteria.
Following this evaluation, a decision will be made on which supplier will be awarded a contract.
Price and Quality are split into two high level categories to be evaluated separately. Each will be given a maximum percentage score, which is weighted according to the relative importance placed upon it.
At the end of the evaluation process, the two percentages will be brought together in the Full Evaluation Model to result in an overall percentage score for each supplier.
All procurement activity now has a heavy focus on savings and efficiencies.
It is common for procurers to start with a 60% Price / 40% Quality split as a basis but this can be changed to any combination depending on the requirements and objectives of the particular procurement.
The evaluation of charges will be based on the supplier’s response to the requirements of a Pricing Schedule designed for the specific contract, using appropriate measures and units based on industry norms.
Price should be based on the total cost of the goods or service over the duration of the entire contract, not just purchase price.
Buyers consider delivery costs, any maintenance and training costs, energy consumption, down time and disposal costs among others, to form a more holistic picture of what it will actually cost to own, or run, the goods or services over the life of the contract.
As well as understanding the criteria of the bid, you also need to know how that criteria is scored.
You will likely have very healthy competition when submitting a bid, so knowing how your bid will be assessed is imperative. Below, we have outlined how bid scoring works.
Typically, a certain percentage or number of points are attributed to price and the supplier bids are scored against pre-set criteria, thus allowing tenders to be ranked in line with the percentages or points attributed to them. For example:
Award criteria relating to quality depend upon the nature of the procurement. Some examples include:
Supplier responses to these award criteria will be assessed using a pre-published scoring mechanism within the tender (see general example below).
This is a set of criteria which suppliers must meet in their responses to achieve certain scores. The scores for each question are converted into maximum percentage scores for each evaluation criteria in the Full Evaluation Model.
Presentations can be an important part of the quality evaluation, particularly for services intended for children and young people or vulnerable adults, where it can be essential to meet with the service provider for a number of reasons.
Where an ITT states a presentation will take place it is then mandatory for all suppliers who are tendering to present, no matter what they have scored on price or quality in their written bid.
Example Evaluation Model
Supplier A – (Lowest Tender Price / Supplier A Price) X Total Price Points
Supplier A Quality Evaluation
Overall Tender Evaluation
Supplier A (70%) lost out to Supplier C who scored the highest percentage (84%) overall in their total evaluation score, despite the fact that Supplier A was the cheapest and scored full marks for their Price Evaluation.
This is an example of where best value does not always mean cheapest tender. Numerous aspects of a contract are taken into account other than cost; including social, economic and environmental benefits that suppliers can offer through the contract.
All suppliers tendering for public contracts are entitled to receive feedback from the contracting authority.
This was initially clarified in the EU Remedies Directive (2009). This clause is now included in the Public Contracts Regulation (2015) and remains unchanged following Brexit.
Suppliers are entitled to receive the following feedback:
1. The award criteria (and any sub-division thereof including price and quality);
2. The reasons for the decision, including the characteristics and relative advantages of the winning bid, the overall price and quality scores obtained, a breakdown for any sub-criteria and the name of the successful supplier who has been awarded the contract;
3. Your overall price and quality score, a breakdown for any sub-criteria and how you can improve your bid.
This follows the EU principles of being open, fair and transparent.
You need to know you have been treated fairly in the process, and in order to judge that you need a reasonable level of feedback.
Again, all suppliers tendering for public contracts have the right to challenge a procurement decision if they have reason to believe that the decision is unfair or not transparent.
Your right to challenge applies throughout the procurement process and is not limited to the standstill period i.e. the award of the contract.
You can challenge public procurement decisions at the point you first became aware of any issue. For example, you can raise concerns during the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) period.
However, the EU has set time limits on when you can challenge procurement decisions.
Whichever way you voted, Brexit is now a reality. So, what does this mean in practice for Public Procurement in the UK? What does it mean for the growth of your business? Below are a few words to reassure you about our uncertain adventure.
First of all, let’s consider the impact of current EU and International trade negotiations. Competition will continue but it may be hindered by more complex access to markets, trade barriers and tariffs.
Therefore, the fundamental principles of the EU - the free movement of goods, people and capital may be compromised. UK suppliers can continue to bid for EU market opportunities, however opportunities for this are exclusively listed in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) and not on the UK Government’s Find a Tender and Contracts Finder databases. Check out our guidance on tendering to the EU post-Brexit, as well as guidance on completing Pre-Qualification Questionnaires (PQQS) and how PQQs have changed post-referendum.
The outcome for bidding within the UK is more stable. Since joining the European Common Community, the UK has been applying European treaties and law for over 40 years. From Environmental, Health & Safety to Consumer legislation, EU Law and procurement regulations are enshrined into UK law, and it has remained this way since Brexit.
Furthermore, the UK has also enhanced EU law in some key areas to increase access to finance and markets, to reduce bureaucracies and to improve payment terms, particularly for subcontractors and SMEs. A good example of this is Lord Young’s Reforms on SMEs.
UK legislation such as the Small Business Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 remains in use post-Brexit and provides further protection and support for SMEs and the supply chain including 30 days payment terms.
Whilst this is always subject to change, given our complex legal structure, the volume of EU legislation remaining in use and the time it takes to pass new Bills, it would take years for European legislation to be undone and officially repealed. So folks, Public Procurement rules remain (for now) and we are still be here to train and support you through the wonderful world of tendering!
So, is it business as usual? Well at the moment Brexit means – YES!
Some useful websites to search for tender opportunities:
Thornton & Lowe offers a range of services to help you improve your bid success rates and grow your business. Click on the links below to find out how we can help you.
The objective and transparent means by which buyers assess tender responses to select a winner – can use either: (a) lowest tender price only or (b) most economically advantageous tender criteria (MEAT).
A three-stage procurement process used in the award of particularly complex projects where an open or restricted procedure is not possible.
The State, regional or local authorities and bodies governed by public law.
Common Procurement Vocabulary. An EU classification scheme used to standardise the description of goods, services and works for the benefit of purchasers and suppliers. This is always an 8-digit code e.g. 11000000.
The basis upon which buyers assess and score supplier responses at selection and award stage.
The generic European term applied to describe suppliers, service providers and contractors.
European Economic Area.
An agreement between the EU and Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein in addition to all EU Member States.
European Single Procurement Document. A new self-declaration form used in public procurement procedures by public buyers in the EU.
A focused market research tool used to determine supplier interest in a proposed procurement.
27 Member States – Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK (still!).
Freedom of Information. There is a right to request information held within the public domain under the FOI Act 2000.
An agreement between one or more public bodies and one or more suppliers, the purpose of which is to enable contracts to be awarded over a period of time. See our dedicated Framework page for more information.
The Government Procurement Agreement - signed by some signatories of the World Trade Organisation Agreement.
EEA/EU countries plus Canada, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Netherlands with respect to Aruba, Singapore, Switzerland and The United States.
This is the annual contract value multiplied by the number of contract years, excluding any contract extensions.
Invitation to Tender or Instructions to Tender.
Most Economic Advantageous Tender. The approach to awarding the contract based on taking account of the best price/quality ratio.
The lowest level which must be achieved for specific selection criteria or award criteria (e.g. Selection criteria – evidence of turnover; minimum level £100,000).
An advertised procedure which involves negotiating with a number of firms (usually 3 or more).
Official Journal of the European Union, which is a website that provides a gateway for Suppliers who wish to search for new business opportunities sent directly from the OJEU and also lower value opportunities from a wide range of other sources throughout the UK and Ireland.
This is a single stage purchasing procedure where the buyer selects and evaluates potential suppliers.
Prior Information Notice – an advert used by contracting authorities to indicate their forward purchases over the next 12 months at European level. Sometimes used to invite parties to a technical dialogue.
A contracting authority or a contracting entity who receives the majority of its funding from the government and is therefore subject to EU Procurement rules.
A form which is sent out with a Request for Quote or Invitation to Tender which asks the supplier to input pricing information against pre-set goods, services or works.
Pre-Qualification Questionnaire. A questionnaire document previously used to request information on financial and technical capacity from interested parties as part of the Restricted, Competitive Dialogue and Negotiated Procedures.
This is a commonly used purchasing procedure which provides for the most suitable applicants to be placed on a tender list. Under this procedure normally at least 5 firms are invited to tender.
Request for Price or Request for Proposals.
Request for Quote – usually used by contracting authorities for low value tenders where price only is evaluated.
Request for Tender.
The initial process used to assess the suitability of applicants for a tender opportunity. This includes meeting minimum standards or requirements using a Pass/Fail.
A contract for the provision of services as defined in the EU Directives.
A contract similar to a service contract, except for the fact that the consideration for the provision of the services consists in the right to exploit the service or in this right together with payment.
An individual or company which provides services.
A description of the product or service required in terms of functional and/or technical performance.
Standard Selection Questionnaire. This is the new form used in public procurement to select suppliers based on standard information and the use of self declaration statements. It replaces the previous “PQQ” form.
The terms and conditions we send out with all Purchase Orders and Request for Quotes which we expect suppliers to accept and comply with during the contract.
Also known as the Alcatel Period. The minimum period between the notification date of unsuccessful tenderers and the date of contract award.
A contract for the purchase, lease, rental or hire purchase of products (may also include siting and installation services).
Tender refers to a formal written submission from the supplier (sometimes known as the Tenderer) or service provider detailing their offer.
This is the aggregated value of a purchased good, service or works over the total life of a contract, including any extensions.
For example, a service costs £50,000 per year to deliver and the contract for the service is four years, plus 1-year extension.
The Total Contract Value is therefore £250,000 and is therefore subject to the OJEU procedure when procuring that service.
Transfer of Undertaking of Protective Employment. Tenders which include the potential for staff to be affected must take due regard of the TUPE regulations, including formal consultation with staff and their trade unions.
A contract notice will tell the supplier whether or not the contracting authority is willing to accept Variant Bids.
This means if a supplier has a more innovative solution to meet the needs than the contracting authority has considered, they have a chance to propose and price it as well as providing a Compliant Bid.
The mathematical emphasis placed on various criteria in the selection or award stage of a tender procedure.
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