Bid Writing: The Ultimate Guide from Thornton & Lowe
"At Thornton & Lowe, Bid Management and Bid Writing is at the heart of what we do.
Whether it is researching, planning, reviewing, writing, guiding or managing bids, our in-house
Bid Management team are immersed in the world of bids day-in-day-out." Dave Thornton, Director.
Thornton & Lowe was established in 2009 with the distinct purpose of supporting organisations to efficiently and effectively tender for public and private sector contracts. On average, we complete over 400 bids and tenders every year for our clients, with a success rate of over 75%. 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.
- The Bid Lifecycle
- Procurement Legislation
- Procurement Thresholds
- The Procurement Process (OJEU Open Procedure)
- Evaluation Criteria
- Selecting Suppliers
- Contract Award
- Price Versus Quality
- Evaluating Price
- Price Scoring Mechanism
- Evaluating Quality - Written Bids
- Quality Scoring Mechanism
- Evaluating Quality - Supplier Presentations
- Supplier Guide - Additional Core Selection Questions
- The Right To Feedback
- The Right To Challenge
- Mystery Shopper Service
- Brexit - What Does It Mean For UK Procurement?
- Useful Websites
- Further Information
- Procurement Jargon
The Bid Lifecycle
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.
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 helping 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 legislations, which include the following:
- The Procurement Reform Act 2014
- Procurement Regulations 2016
- Public Contracts Regulations 2015
- Utilities Contracts Regulations 2016
- Concession Contracts Regulations 2016
The following OJEU procurement thresholds apply from 1st January 2016 and will be reviewed by the European Commission on 1st January 2018:
OJEU Threshold (excluding VAT)
Light Touch Regime (Social Care & other Services)
The Procurement Process (OJEU Open Procedure)
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:
- Selection Criteria focus on a supplier’s past experience and track record only, in order to filter out the suitably qualified and experienced suppliers capable of providing the Authority’s requirement
- Award Criteria relate to the specific contract and are forward looking. Contracts are normally awarded on the basis of the “most economically advantageous tender” which means, the tender offering best overall value for money both in terms of price and quality
These are two distinct stages which are normally evaluated separately. For example, if the 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 are made solely on the information that suppliers provide in either their Standard Selection Questionnaire (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 for scoring it 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.
Price Versus Quality
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.
Price Scoring Mechanism
Typically, a certain percentage or number of points are attributed to prices 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:
|Max percentage score||40%|
|Tendered prices:||£||% scored|
|Lowest tendered price||£70,000.00|
|Highest tendered price||£100,000.00|
Evaluating Quality - Written Bids
Award criteria relating to quality depend upon the nature of the procurement. Some examples include:
- Technical merit of the goods or services
- Ability to meet specification
- Compliance with contractual terms and conditions
- Innovative technology
- Project plans and methodologies
- Wider social, economic and environmental benefits offered to the community
- Staffing arrangements, training and development
- Speed of delivery, maintenance and support offered
Quality Scoring Mechanism
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.
|Range of Score||Description|
|0||Non-compliant, fails to satisfy specified requirements.|
|1||Marginally adequate, does not satisfy all requirements, successful completion uncertain, concerns regarding competence or capacity and ability to successfully fulfil the contract requirements.|
|2||Acceptable and mainly compliant, generally meets the requirements except for minor aspects and shortcomings, successful completion likely.|
|3||Satisfies all requirements, average, acceptable and compliant; successful completion highly probable, no shortcomings apparent.|
|4||Very good, negligible risk of failure; satisfies the selection criteria in all respects. Highly competent and above average.|
|5||Superior, beyond expectations; offers an excellent level of performance which exceeds notional requirements; represents industry best practice.|
Evaluating Quality – Supplier Presentations
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
|Organisation||Supplier A||Supplier B||Supplier C||Supplier D|
|Price of this tender||£111,712.17||£121,131.90||£117,475.53||£150,085.00|
|Price of lowest tender||£111,712.17||£111,712.17||£111,712.17||£111,712.17|
Supplier A Quality Evaluation
|Ability to meet specification||30%||50||25||15%|
Overall Tender Evaluation
|Organisation||Supplier A||Supplier B||Supplier C||Supplier D|
|Ability to meet
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.
Supplier Guide – “Additional” Core Selection Questions
Supplementary to the Core SSQ Questions is a set of “additional" core questions which are used for project specific purposes. The additional questions cover Risk Management, Health and Safety, Quality Assurance, Environmental Management, Diversity and Equality and Professional Capacity. Evaluation for additional and supplementary questions will be determined by the procurer on a case by case basis. Some may be Pass/Fail and others may be scored and weighted. If the latter is the case, the procurer must pre-publish the method by which supplier responses will be assessed.PLEASE NOTE: For construction related contracts the Buyer will use the British Standards Specification PAS 91:2010 Selection questionnaire (as made mandatory by the Government’s Procurement Policy Note 20/10 December 2010).
|Technical and Professional Capacity – Example Questions|
|Subject||Purpose||Key Questions for the Buyer||Information Typically Requested||Handy Tips|
|1. Risk Management||The purpose of this section is to establish whether the organisation is aware of the risks to its objectives, and to find out how resilient the organisation is to withstand unexpected disruptions to its operations. They also want to know what security systems you have in place to protect information.||Has the organisation identified all the key risks associated with its business? Have they taken the necessary actions to ensure the organisation can provide the services being contracted? Does the organisation know how it will respond to disruptions and is it well prepared? Has the organisation recognised security risks to information and implemented a system to mitigate against these?||
||Write a policy for each of these areas and keep them in your SSQ file. Create action plans which show how these policies will be or are implemented within your organisation. Make sure all employees understand your policies and have access to copies. Monitor your efforts and review your policies annually and whenever there are changes in your business.|
|2. Health and Safety||A statutory requirement for all organisations employing five or more persons.||Is your organisation a safe one to do business with?||
||Write a Health and Safety Policy for your business which is signed and dated by the individual with overall executive responsibility for H&S for your organisation. Carry out and record findings of appropriate risk assessments. Record all RIDDOR incidents and details, including corrective actions taken. Make sure all employees understand the policy and have a copy. Review the policy annually and whenever there are changes.|
|3. Quality Assurance||To reassure the buyer that your organisation has the management systems and processes in place to consistently deliver the goods/services asked for in the contract.||Can I depend on you to provide the same levels of service consistently? Will you satisfy customers? Are your staff motivated enough to provide a good service?||
||Write a quality policy for your business. The policy should be relevant to the nature and scale of the work to be undertaken and set out responsibilities for quality management throughout the organisation. List the systems and procedures that you have in place in your business which are key to your customer delivery. Describe all your operating processes and the checks and balances in place at each stage to ensure quality (draw a diagram or flow chart, or use post it notes to help you). Use a feedback loop to ensure continuous improvements.|
|4. Environmental Management||Sustainability is now a key issue in many of our contracts, and Buyers are keen for our potential suppliers to have a commitment to sustainable environmental practices. A written policy is only required to be 1-2 pages and should always reflect your business processes.||Can this organisation help us reduce the impact of our operations on the environment?||
||Write an Environmental Policy. Create an action plan which shows how the policy will be implemented within the business. Make sure all employees understand the policy and have a copy. Monitor your efforts and review your policy annually. Promote your green credentials.|
|5. Diversity & Equality||The Equality Act 2010 aims to eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and allows public sector organisations to foster good relations when exercising their functions. The Act establishes a new Single Equality Duty on public authorities. This consolidates the three existing public duties on race, disability and gender. Additionally, it covers age, sexual orientation, religion or belief, pregnancy and maternity and gender reassignment.||Is the supplier compliant with its statutory obligations under the Equality Act 2010? Is the supplier committed to non-discrimination and the advancement of equal opportunity in your business processes, (not only in recruitment, but also selection and promotion and in the process of supplying your goods/services or works)? Does the supplier foster good relations when running their business and providing services?||
||Write an Equal Opportunities and Diversity Policy Statement which meets all the criteria above and includes all current legislation below, and integrate it within your business. Create an action plan which shows how the policy will be implemented within the business. Make sure all employees understand the policy and have a copy. Collect evidence to show how your policy works in practice, for example, recruitment adverts, employee handbook, application forms.|
|6. Professional Capacity||To enable the Buyer to understand the organisational structure, key personnel/managers assigned to the project, their qualifications and seniority. It is also an opportunity to see what other resources you intend to draw on, including any intent to sub-contract, or employ apprentices in order to help deliver the contract.||Are the staff qualified and competent? Does the account manager have staff senior enough to make quick decisions? Can this organisation offer any added value for the Council through employing local apprentices or implementing work placement initiatives?||
||Make sure staff assigned and staff CVs provided are relevant to the contract. Use your formal job descriptions as a guide to entering staff responsibilities.|
|7. Requirement Specific Questions||These questions will be added by the Buyer and will be specific to the contract which you are bidding for.||This will depend completely on the questions being asked, but it is a chance for the Buyer to ask for some pertinent information from you which may be crucial to the good, works or services being delivered. Therefore, they will be looking to see how highly you score against these questions in terms of meeting the requirements of the contract.||This list is not exhaustive but gives you some examples of additional information which may be requested:
The Right to Feedback
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. 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.
The Right to Challenge
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.
Mystery Shopper Service
The Mystery Shopper is a service, run by the Crown Commercial Service that provides a route for suppliers to raise concerns about unfair and/or poor public procurement practice. It is free to access, and as a supplier you can also remain anonymous, if preferred. The Crown Commercial Service publishes its findings monthly on its website. The Crown Commercial Service will investigate any genuine concern raised by a supplier. Contracting authorities are then required to respond and comply with their findings, including taking the agreed corrective action. This helps to avoid any legal disputes arising and potentially prevents the issue escalating to EU courts. Further details can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/mystery-shopper-scope-and-remit
Brexit means Brexit - But what does it mean for UK procurement?
Whichever way you voted, Brexit negotiations are 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. We will have to wait and see if in the longer term, UK suppliers can continue to bid for EU market opportunities.
The outcome for bidding within the UK is a little bit 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, so it is unlikely that is will be erased overnight.
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. New UK legislation such as the Small Business Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 provides further protection and support for SMEs and the supply chain including 30 days payment terms.
Given our complex legal structure, the volume of EU legislation and the time it takes to pass new Bills, it will take years for all the legislation to be undone and officially repealed (if there is even a stomach for it!). So folks, Public Procurement rules will apply for a little longer and we will 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!
|Award Criteria||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).|
|Competitive Dialogue Procedure||A three-stage procurement process used in the award of particularly complex projects where an open or restricted procedure is not possible.|
|Contracting Authority||The State, regional or local authorities and bodies governed by public law.|
|Contract Notice||The notice issued by authorities confirming details of successful suppliers who have been awarded contracts following a procurement exercise.|
|CPV Codes||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.|
|Evaluation Criteria||The basis upon which buyers assess and score supplier responses at selection and award stage.|
|Economic Operator||The generic European term applied to describe suppliers, service providers and contractors.|
|EEA||European Economic Area.|
|EEA Agreement||An agreement between the EU and Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.|
|EEA Countries||Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein in addition to all EU Member States.|
|ESPD||European Single Procurement Document. A new self- declaration form used in public procurement procedures by public buyers in the EU.|
|Expression of Interest||An invitation to the market to apply for a place on the tender list. Usually requires providing specified information to the public body regarding a firm’s financial, economic and technical capacity.|
|EU Countries||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!).|
|FOI||Freedom of Information. There is a right to request information held within the public domain under the FOI Act 2000.|
|Framework Agreement||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.|
|GPA||The Government Procurement Agreement - signed by some signatories of the World Trade Organisation Agreement.|
|GPA Countries||EEA/EU countries plus Canada, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Netherlands with respect to Aruba, Singapore, Switzerland and The United States.|
|Initial Contract Value||This is the annual contract value multiplied by the number of contract years, excluding any contract extensions.|
|ITT||Invitation to Tender or Instructions to Tender.|
|MEAT||Most Economic Advantageous Tender. The approach to awarding the contract based on taking account of the best price/quality ratio.|
|Minimum Standard||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).|
|Negotiated Procedure||An advertised procedure which involves negotiating with a number of firms (usually 3 or more).|
|OJEU||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.|
|Open Procedure||This is a single stage purchasing procedure where the buyer selects and evaluates potential suppliers.|
|PIN||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.|
|Public Body or Public Sector||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.|
|Pricing Schedule||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.|
|PQQ||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.|
|Restricted Procedure||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.|
|RFP||Request for Price or Request for Proposals.|
|RFQ||Request for Quote – usually used by contracting authorities for low value tenders where price only is evaluated.|
|RFT||Request for Tender.|
|Selection Criteria||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.|
|Service Contract||A contract for the provision of services as defined in the EU Directives.|
|Service Concession||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.|
|Service Provider||An individual or company which provides services.|
|Specification||A description of the product or service required in terms of functional and/or technical performance.|
|SSQ||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.|
|Standard Terms and Conditions||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.|
|Standstill Period||Also known as the Alcatel Period. The minimum period between the notification date of unsuccessful tenderers and the date of contract award.|
|Supply Contract||A contract for the purchase, lease, rental or hire purchase of products (may also include siting and installation services).|
|Tender Response||Tender refers to a formal written submission from the supplier (sometimes known as the Tenderer) or service provider detailing their offer.|
|Total Contract Value||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.|
|TUPE||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.|
|Variant Bid||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.|
|Weightings||The mathematical emphasis placed on various criteria in the selection or award stage of a tender procedure.|