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Government gains: SME guide to public sector contract pitching

Smaller businesses are being urged to compete for their share of the Government’s outsourcing budget. How can SMEs get a piece of the public sector pie?

Ministers have recently revealed that they want to increase the number of contracts that are awarded to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) so they receive a third of overall spending: this would mean more than £14.4 billion a year of business for such companies.


Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock says that the Government has made changes to its procurement rules so that it’s easier for small firms to bid for public-sector contracts. These include ensuring that all businesses in the supply chain are paid within 30 days, publishing details of contracts on a central online database, and simplifying the bidding process by abolishing time-consuming ‘pre-qualification questionnaires’ in many cases.

“This is such an amazing opportunity for the country’s diverse and innovative small businesses, and today I urge them to get stuck in,” Hancock says. “From computers to uniforms – there are so many opportunities for small businesses to work with us, and I want to see more of them providing value for money for the taxpayer and benefiting from our spending.”

So, how do you go about bidding for government business – and what potential pitfalls are there to look out for?

  1. Contracts finder

The first step should be to consult the Contract Finders database. It provides information about deals worth £10,000 or more. You can search for opportunities by sector, as well as look at upcoming work and details of previous tenders.

By signing up, you can opt to receive email updates of potentially relevant contracts so you don’t miss out on potential business. Contract Finders only covers work in England. Elsewhere in the UK, consult Public Contracts Scotland, Sell2Wales and eSourcing NI.

  1. Tenders direct

Many local authorities and public-sector organisations keep lists of possible suppliers for different types of work – and this is especially the case when it comes to low-value contracts. It could be worth getting in touch directly with any organisation you think you could help.

  1. Invitation to tender

The government has made it simpler to bid for work but nonetheless, the tender process will take some time and effort on your part. This means you have to choose what you bid for carefully so you have a chance of winning and don’t waste your time.

  1. Blow your own trumpet

In the application process, the organisation you’re dealing with will want to hear why your company is their best option. You need to be able to explain why they should pick you. As a small business, you are likely to be cheaper and more flexible than larger rivals, so focus on strengths such as these and provide evidence for any claims you make.

According to the Cabinet Office, the government is looking for SMEs to provide innovative solutions, so if you have an idea of how services or goods could be provided more efficiently, speak up.

  1. Seek feedback

Whether you’re successful or not, be sure to ask for feedback about your application: this will give you extra insight to help with any future bids.

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