Categories
Bid process

The question of clarifications

According to the APMP Body of Knowledge (BOK), a clarification is: “Communication to eliminate minor irregularities or apparent clerical mistakes in a request for proposal (RFP) or in a proposal.”

In our experience, there are two extremes of clarifications on bids; at one end of the scale, those bids that are pretty self-explanatory but there may be a little more information you’d like, or the ones you read and think, “what are you talking about?!”

But when should you raise clarification questions? And what are the best types of questions to raise?

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

When (and how) should raise your clarifications?
If the client has provided a clarification deadline after which they will respond, always try to submit your questions at least one or two days before this if you can. Just like submitting your response on a portal at the last minute, there’s a risk that systems may not work, or every other bidder has the same idea – meaning your messages could get lost in the chaos.

Some clients don’t provide a deadline, and clarifications can be raised (and answered) throughout the procurement period. Here, you should try and raise your questions as soon as possible. Firstly, why not get the information you need as soon as you can? Secondly, it provides a further opportunity to go back to the client if things are still unclear and before it’s too late down into submission.

In either scenario, unless it is impossible for logistical reasons (or the client’s response prompts more clarifications!), you should always try to raise your clarifications in one batch. Think about how frustrating it could be for your potential client (or existing client, if a retender of course) to receive multiple questions in separate emails / messages from you. Having said that, we’ve not long worked on a bid where the client send out over 300 clarifications in individual message threads…

Clarification: Communication to eliminate minor irregularities or apparent clerical mistakes in a request for proposal (RFP) or in a proposal

APMP Body of Knowledge

What types of clarifications should you be raising?
Looking back at the BOK definition, it’s perfectly valid to clarify the date of submission, or the deadline for clarification questions, if different dates are provided across documentation. If you are submitting via an online portal, it’s rare (in our experience at least!) that the date there is incorrect – so this could be used as a deciding vote.

If the documents refer to forms or other documents to be completed, but which haven’t been provided, these should definitely be raised as a clarification. For other clerical errors, you may be able to logically work out yourself without embarrassing or annoying the client by raising them formally – such issues include incorrect page numbers or headings, spelling mistakes etc.

You should also raise clarifications if information is missing or unclear, that you consider vital to submitting your response, such as (but not limited to!):
Information required for pricing purposes, e.g., in a tender to supply contact centre services, you would need to know average call lengths and volumes to determine how many staff you need to price up for. Or in a professional/consultancy services tender, you might need to know how many hours / days’ work they require over a set period.
Information required for logistical purposes e.g., where the client needs services to be delivered from, or whether any existing work or staff would need to be transferred.
Information on current operations, such as current contract spend, areas with the highest volumes of work or areas of greatest concern to the client.
Evaluation or scoring criteria hasn’t been included, or no weightings have been provided by the client – in most cases, this information can help you shape your response accordingly.
Contractual points, e.g., are there clauses that your company cannot agree to that you would seek to negotiate at this time, or does the client reference performance indicators which aren’t defined?

You shouldn’t, however, make your (or your competitors’) lives more difficult through your clarification questions. Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answer to! The ones that always make us roll our eyes are those bidders who ask for word or page limits to be increased. Unless they’ve made a mistake, the client has assigned those limits on purpose – they may have a small team, who can’t read 10 submissions of five volumes each. Or, they are simply judging how you follow instructions, and present information concisely. While you might have the client who is open to extending, or removing, word limits – what does that really achieve, especially if you’ve already drafted a response, other than additional work and potential impact on your colleagues?

Think carefully about what is vital information, de-risk your questions, and always be polite – and don’t be that bidder that all the others roll their eyes at!

Categories
Procurement

Social Responsibility in Bids

An interesting article from Innovators Mag came through on our bids and tenders alert last week, which talked about Socially Responsible Public Procurement (SRPP) and measuring the social impact of public sector procurement.

The article cited a recent report by the European Commission: “Making socially responsible public procurement work: 71 good practice cases”. The report examines how procuring bodies – and, of course, suppliers – can make SRPP visible, through the promotion of a range of factors including “employment opportunities, decent work, social inclusion, accessibility, design for all, ethical trade, and compliance with social and environmental standards”.

From the supplier side, how often are you asked to show how you would promote social responsibility? In our experience, questions in this area are becoming ever-more frequent, and just some of the examples we’ve seen in the last couple of years include asking how suppliers would:

  • Increase employment opportunities in the local area
  • Create apprenticeships for young people
  • Support local charities and underprivileged groups
  • Reduce the supplier’s and awarding authority’s carbon footprint
  • Demonstrate a local presence
  • Demonstrate a commitment to gender and ethnic equality
  • Use sustainable business practices
  • Adopt family leave policies for domestic violence

What we need to do is think outside the box a little – both on the supplier, and procurement sides

The article notes that many suppliers might “find it hard to incorporate a social dimension in their bids”. This may be true, particularly for certain industries which require specialist skillsets or where your product/service may not naturally lend itself to providing social value as a direct output. Supporting charities has often been an ‘easy win’ for companies to talk about, but it is no longer enough. What we need to do is think outside the box a little – both on the supplier, and procurement sides.

Innovators Mag points to a great example of putting this into practice from The City of Helsingborg (Sweden), which hosted a market consultation exercise to share with potential suppliers its aim to create job opportunities and/or internships for the unemployed through its procurement for cleaning services. This was built into the procurement evaluation criteria. Of the six organisations that took part in the market consultation, four became suppliers, and five unemployed people were provided with jobs or internships in the contract’s first year.

The Helsingborg example also shows that it isn’t enough to simply talk about what you do in terms of social value – you have to offer proof. Many procuring organisations also expect you to continually measure and report on your social actions.

With the effects of the global pandemic ongoing throughout 2020 and no doubt into 2021, SRPP will surely only increase as we look to ‘fix’ our economies. It’s definitely time for all parties to think more creatively about how they can give back to our communities through responsible procurement.

Categories
Procurement

A brief history of bidding: the past, present and future

As a bit of a history geek, the joint celebrations this past weekend of America’s independence and 72 years of the UK’s NHS got me thinking about the history and future of bidding (lockdown is obviously taking its toll…) But in all serious, how did bidding for goods and services start? When were the first contracts awarded? And how has the industry grown since?

Given what we know about their civilisation, it probably won’t come as a shock that the first indications of procurement were seen with the Egyptians around 3,000 BC. While there was, of course, no formal tender and award process, the Egyptians used scribes to record and manage the materials used to build pyramids; recording the requirements and monitoring their fulfilment on papyrus rolls. Ancient coins – now often on display in their hundreds in museums – provide a history of the trades that took place all over the ancient world. Where the coins were manufactured, versus where they are discovered, shows us where the supply and demand came from.

Much of the early formal acquisition of goods and services has its origins in military logistics, where the historical custom of “foraging and looting” was taken on by military quartermasters (the term dating from the 1600s) to ensure troops had the equipment they needed. Procurement as we know it was not really recognised until the 19th century, when Charles Babage’s 1832 book, ‘On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures’ documented the need for a “materials man in the mining sector who selects, purchases and tracks goods and services required”; a central procurement function.

Fast forward to the 21st century. According to BidStats, in the last eight months nearly 41,000 UK public sector contract notices have been issued, with 1,000 contract award notices in the last week alone*. Coming to more prominent public awareness in recent months, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says it awarded over 2,000 contracts in 2019, at a combined value of nearly $90 million – a 200% increase in volume from 2017. And these numbers are from just two awarding bodies/sectors. A total volume and value of bids published and awarded is, unsurprisingly, difficult to tie down – but will no doubt have too many zeroes to be displayed on a normal calculator!

Cities continually reinvent themselves as urban life changes…by offering ever more inventive goods and services

The percentage increase experienced by the WHO is not alone; the volume, and value, of contracts published and awarded will only continue to rise – albeit we will expect to see changes in focus and subject as technology and industry sectors move ever forward, adapting to global needs and aiming to improve quality of life. In his book ‘Triumph of the City’, Edward Glaeser, Professor of Economics at Harvard University, argues that cities continually reinvent themselves as urban life changes; industries (and individual companies) prosper by early identification of these changes, responding by offering ever more inventive goods and services.

No wonder we all love bidding so much – just look at the vibrant, ever-adapting and ever-growing industry we are part of.

*As a side note, other data and graph enthusiasts should check out the Analysis Charts section of BidStats for UK public sector contract notices and awards split by week, region, type, value, sector and CPV code keywords. #LoveAChart

Categories
News

Metro de Santiago plans huge investment in its infrastructure

Metro de Santiago has issued a tender for construction of the first section of its new east – west Line 7, aiming to relieve saturation on the existing route. This is described as the “largest investment that Metro de Santiago has ever made in a single route” at an expected value of around US$2·9bn. Great news for the economy and infrastructure:

https://www.railwaygazette.com/projects-and-planning/santiago-tenders-line-7-construction/56621.article

Categories
Procurement

COVID-19 and the fast-track procurement rules

In mid-May 2020, news broke that the UK Government had awarded over £1bn in state contracts outside competitive procurement during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under EU procurement rules, any services/supplies contract valued at over €139,000 (£124,400) must be competitively tendered – with an exclusion given for “cases of extreme urgency”. Of the total 177 state contracts awarded during the period from March 2020, 115 were awarded exercising this exclusion to the rules, with the Government awarding contracts for administering COVID-19 tests, the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) and food parcels, and running an operations room alongside civil servants. Two of the individual contracts awarded were worth more than £200m each.

Of the total 177 state contracts awarded during the period from March 2020, 115 were awarded exercising this exclusion to the rules

Whilst big-name commercial firms saw success through this route, interestingly the fast-track rules did mean that firms which may not normally have qualified through the formal process for a variety of reasons (turnover, size, experience etc.) have been given an opportunity. Take the 16-man pest control company, for example, awarded a high value contract to procure PPE for frontline healthcare staff. As we know, many Government procurements specify a minimum turnover for qualification. Under normal competitive circumstances, would this family firm – said to previously have net assets of £18k – have even got a look-in? The contract award made this firm the Government’s largest PPE supplier.  

The volume and value of contracts awarded via this exclusion route could set a dangerous precedent though, invoking a ‘race to the bottom’ in future tenders where the value brought by quality, ability and experience should legitimately be considered as part of the evaluation as well as the price – our friend the MEAT award. Indeed, both the National Audit Office and parliament’s public accounts committee have said they will evaluate the contracts awarded during this period to ensure they do indeed represent value for money. Confidence will need to be restored in the competitive procurement process once the fast track rules are no longer deemed appropriate.