How to win construction work from the public sector

With ongoing demand for new schools, hospitals, housing and leisure facilities, the public sector is a rich source of opportunities for the UK construction industry.

Tendering for work is a vital way of securing new business, with hundreds of local contracts published every week.

The key to winning public sector tenders lies in knowing where to find the best information, choosing an appropriate contract size and building good relationships, according to electronic tendering specialist Millstream.

The company has reported a 6% increase in public sector construction tenders in the UK and Ireland over the last year – rising to 12,839 available contracts in 2013 from 12,045 the previous year – meaning more opportunities for UK companies to secure work from the public sector.

Opportunities generally include thousands of tenders across new build construction, building services, civil engineering, building refurbishment, exterior and interior works and professional services.

Millstream’s managing director Tim Williams said: “A number of European governments and public authorities now handle procurement electronically in order to save money and time and to comply with the latest EU legislation so there are literally thousands of opportunities out there,” he said.

“It can be a complicated but lucrative process as construction is one of the largest areas for public sector tendering along with IT and healthcare, with contracts ranging from small building projects to major capital developments for local authorities, housing associations, NHS trusts, the government and armed forces.”

Around 70% of the construction tenders published by Millstream are below the EU threshold, which means they do not need to be advertised in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU).

“EU legislation means that contracting authorities must adhere to transparent, non-discriminatory and proportional principles when purchasing goods and services. They must also advertise all contracts above threshold values in the OJEU, which is set at £4.3million for large-scale construction tenders and around £112,000 for all other supplies and services,” said Tim.

“Without the fear of competition from overseas contractors, lower value tenders are therefore particularly attractive to SMEs, however they are not always easy to find. We trawl through hundreds of websites to source lower value tenders from across the public sector and make them easy to access.”

Once you have found a potential opportunities, Tim’s advice is to be selective when deciding which ones to bid for.

“When deciding whether or not to bid, pick your best prospects and focus on the ones you think you have the best chance of securing, while balancing it with existing work. It may be better to go for smaller ones to start with, considering the value and duration of the contract.

“Build a relationship with potential clients – bear in mind that your competitors may already be working with them and if you’re not, you are starting at a disadvantage.

“Identify existing problems and offer a solution and ensure you can demonstrate that your business is big enough to cope if you are awarded the contract.”

Information should be easy to read, clearly indexed and should state what you can offer, when you will do it and what the cost will be.

Tim added: “The easier you can make it for the procurement officer, the greater your chance of making it through to the next stage.

“Our aim is to ensure that if a tender is published anywhere, we will have that information available for our subscribers so they don’t have to worry about missing any opportunities, then our team can help them to understand and successfully complete the tendering process from start to finish.”

As the only company providing national public procurement websites for several European member states, Millstream operates the Public Contracts Scotland portal on behalf of the Scottish Government, as well as Sell2Wales for the Welsh Government.

Millstream runs the Tenders Direct service, which provides private companies with specific and manually categorised alerts, sent daily by email, on new business opportunities from the public sector.

It also runs myTenders, a tender publication and management service used by more than 700 public organisations in the UK to submit fully compliant contract notices to the OJEU and Contracts Finder, as well as publicising them on the organisation’s own website.

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