Buyers make bids ‘a minefield’ for SMEs

11 February 2010

11 February 2010 | Rebecca Ellinor

Public sector buyers are not doing enough to help small suppliers win work.

They commonly make four mistakes, argue Paul Neill and Bryan Avery, principal consultants at The Bidding Consultancy, in the next issue of SM, out 18 February.

“Examples of poor practice, which we see all too often, are vague and sloppy tender documentation; pre-qualification questionnaires that read like War and Peace; insufficient information on selection criteria; and a lack of post-tender feedback,” they write.

“These are not isolated examples. What comes through most strongly is the sheer variety of approaches taken and the lack of consistency in procurement practice, including drafting what should be relatively standard documents. This is a potential minefield for all bidders but for SMEs, who typically have very limited or no dedicated bidding resource, it can make the difference between bidding and not bidding.”

Neill and Avery recommend “road testing” tender documents by getting a second opinion on how clear the specification is, ensuring the level of bureaucracy is proportionate to the value and complexity of the requirement, and that it is easily accessible to small organisations.

They also suggest buyers become more proactive in offering feedback on performance after each stage of a procurement exercise, use good practice tools and guidance already available and do more to encourage SMEs to bid for work.

“There are pockets of really excellent practice around. Yet too often we see a one-size-fits-all approach. Little attempt is made, beyond bland equal opportunities statements encouraging SMEs to bid, to engage seriously with SMEs.”

It follows research out earlier this month that found small and medium-sized construction firms were being “squeezed out” of UK public sector contracts.

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