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Helping organisations to navigate the tendering process

PCC has developed a wealth of experience in working with provider organisations such as GP surgeries and dental practices to better understand procurement processes and to help them submit competitive bids and through this experience has developed a good insight into some of the key areas where greater understanding and support is required, reports procurement specialist Alan Turrell.

Alan Turrell
PCC associate

Although like many “business as usual” commissioning activities, there has been a recent lull in procurement exercises to enable concentration on tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, this position is already changing and a resumption in competitive tendering is anticipated in the next few months. It is therefore vital that provider organisations interesting in bidding for services are well prepared and possess the necessary skills and knowledge to submit a competitive bid. Often such organisations may have a wealth of technical knowledge about providing the service in question and have an understanding of the local context but often seek support in how to demonstrate and articulate through the tendering process that they fully meet the tender criteria and are the organisation best placed to provide the service.

Through supporting bids for services such as orthodontics, general and out of hours dental services and the management of GP practices, PCC has gained valuable experience in providing such a service which is tailor-made to the needs of the bidder and the particular circumstances or nature of the service for which bids are being invited. A key starting point is assessing the clients needs in terms of the level of support required which can range from providing a fully “hands-on” service involving drafting responses to questions to providing assurance support by critiquing initial responses prepared by the bidder and working jointly to enhance them enabling the bidder to provide a more comprehensive response to achieve improved marks.

Before individual questions are tackled though, PCC will ensure that clients have a thorough understanding of the overall process by producing some “Hints and Tips” which comprise some basic principles about preparing the bid.

These include:

  • The bidder fully understands the procurement process including any deadlines such as the time/date for submitting clarification questions and the closing date and has a full understanding how to submit the bid using the specified portal.
  • The bidder is able to demonstrate that they can meet the specification and related key performance measures and, where possible, deliver ‘added value”.
  • The bidder has full understanding of the evaluation process and which sections/questions carry the highest weighting.
  • That even where a bidder is the incumbent provider they treat the new bid as providing a brand new service and understands that their offer will only be evaluated on the basis of the
  • information submitted as part of the bid even though the commissioner may have prior knowledge of the bidder as an existing provider as this cannot be considered as part of the evaluation process.
  • That all questions are answered explicitly covering each of the points highlighted within the question even though that same information may have been used in response to another question, as there will be no cross-referencing between responses to questions.

Although it is essential that bidders are themselves familiar with all the tender documentation including the ITT (Invitation to tender document) and the specification, many clients have valued PCC producing a summary of the key points from these documents which would include, for example, the key dates in the procurement timetable, an analysis of the evaluation criteria and process including weightings, scoring criteria and any “red flag” questions or thresholds, and an identification of some of the key themes which need to be addressed and demonstrated such as improving access to services, reducing health inequalities and integrated working. It is essential that the bidder ensures that all these messages are communicated to everyone involved in preparing the bid so that there is a real focus on the key issues and a consistent approach.

The logistics and the process involved in preparing a bid can themselves often be challenging for bidders and again PCC has often helped by producing a project plan detailing all of the steps to be taken and the associated timescales, such as understanding whether the bid is to be submitted in partnership with another organisation, specifying the deadline for preparation of initial drafts and identifying who is taking the lead in preparing the individual elements of the bid including the financial aspects (often referred to as the “FMT” – Financial Model Template). This project plan is then used as the “tracker” to jointly monitor progress and address any delays hence building disciple into the bid preparation process ensuring that the bid is finalised well in advance of the closing date thus enabling sufficient time for the provider to input it into the tender portal.

From recent experience, PCC has found that although many clients are able to draft initial responses to most questions, they have found some questions to be particularly challenging and this is where PCC’s input has been particularly welcomed. For example, questions relating to clinical standards, safeguarding and clinical governance require a demonstration that robust governance arrangements are in place setting out who is responsibility for what areas, the lines of accountability and who within the organisation makes the final decision. Responses to questions relating to service delivery should emphasise areas where the organisation is intending to be innovative, how it will improve accessibility and reduce health inequalities, and how it will actively engage patients and the public and work in an integrated way with other relevant organisations within the local health and social care community. The issue of social value is receiving greater focus in tenders and here PCC has helped bidders by providing greater understanding of this concept and how they can, in delivering the service, provide tangible social, economic and environmental benefits to the local community. Very often providers are indeed already making valuable contributions but need support in articulating this in terms of “social value”.

Producing robust mobilisation plans and associated risk logs is also often a challenge but PCC has been able to suggest templates or frameworks on which these can be built which helps the bidder demonstrate that they have identified all the key actions which need to be taken to ensure that the service will be delivered on time and that key risks to this have been recognised and mitigating actions are in place. Particularly topical, of course, are business continuity plans, where bidders are expected to identify the key risks to them being able to continue to provide a service and the plans they have in place to overcome these should they come to fruition. Such risks, of course, include pandemics and it is anticipated that the demands on bidders to demonstrate they have adequate contingencies in place will be much to the fore in any forthcoming tenders.

A key part of PCC’s role has not only been to refine answers to individual questions, particularly in relation to the above issues, but to ensure that there is consistency within the overall bid as responses have often been written by different persons within an organisation meaning that there can very often be contradictions, lack of consistency and insufficient focus on key messages.

Although it is common for clients to seek support from the point that an ITT has been issued and sometimes only a short period before the closing date, PCC urges clients to involve them at the earliest stage possible such as at the point that they become aware that a service is to be tendered especially where they currently provide the service and this could be under threat. This not only enables additional valuable time for planning the overall bidding strategy and the preparation of the bid but ensures that a strong working relationship and understanding can be formed between PCC’s team and the client. Advanced activity could include face to face meetings to understand the clients current position and strategy and/or holding customized workshops with all those likely to be involved in the preparation of the bid to ensure that they have a head start in understanding the procurement process.

This role that PCC can provide in supporting the preparation of bids has been much appreciated by clients to date. A bidder for several dental practices commented: “it was a pleasure working with you on the project, to which I learned a great deal’’

Whilst a bidder for a GP Practice concluded:

“Thank you again for all your help with the bid, I really couldn’t have done it without you. I can’t express how much I appreciated and valued your support throughout the whole process.”

Provider organisations who feel that they would benefit from receiving such support are welcomed to contact to discuss their potential requirements.

Alan Turrell is a PCC associate and has hosted workshops on procurement and preparing bids and has provided bid writing support to many PCC clients. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply and is a Chartered Procurement and Supply Professional.