Written by Flemming Madsen for whatCharity.com
Public Contracts for the Voluntary Sector
Every year, the UK public sector spends more than £250 billion with external suppliers. To level the playing field most of these procurements must go to public tender. The voluntary sector earns about £15 billion a year from central and local government. Most of the underlying contracts are awarded after an open bidding process where anyone can submit a bid to win the contract. (In many cases there will be more than one winner).
These public sector contracts are not grants. They are competitively awarded contracts where the public sector taps into the expertise, networks and resources of charities. So, winning public contracts is not about doing anything other than what you are doing already – it’s about doing more of it, and generating substantial income for your charity while doing it.
Now is a good time for charities to bid for public contracts. The Social Value Act, which currently requires commissioners to “consider” social value when awarding contracts, is being updated so it will now be an explicit requirement for commissioners from central government (about half of all contracts to the third sector) and it is likely this requirement will be extended to local government in the near future.
Tenderlake.com is a new and better service that helps hundreds of organisations discover more public sector contracts to bid for – whilst spending less time doing so.
Finding the right contracts is key – but can be frustratingly hard
Tenderlake.com was founded in 2017 out of the sheer frustration with existing contract search services. It was simply impossible to find a good service that both contained all open contracts and at the same time offered a simple and effective way of identifying all relevant contracts.
One of the challenges of identifying all relevant contracts is that buyers and suppliers may talk in different terms about the same thing. E.g. if you are a provider of training services, you may set up an alert that identifies contracts that mention “training services”. But that is not going to identify a contract where the buyer “..is looking for someone to help upskill our workforce”. So, a buyer may speak in terms of the outcome they want to procure, while the supplier is used to describing the activities they perform – or vice versa.
A charity that works with people who are at risk of becoming obese or have diabetes would not be able to use these search terms (obese, diabetes) to identify a contract that “..is looking for a supplier to help educate people about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle”. Again, it is easy for humans to see that the contract is relevant, but traditional search tools will not identify this. But this is one of the ways Tenderlake is different.
Until now, it has required a small army of people searching for and evaluating potential contracts, searching across the Internet, trying to second-guess how a commissioner might describe a contract and formulating searches to find it.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help
Tenderlake uses Artificial intelligence of help overcome the challenges associated with identifying relevant contracts. It does so because it actively LEARNS to understand what type of contracts you are really looking for. This enables Tenderlake to identify contracts that are relevant, but not matched by any of your searches.
In many cases, Tenderlake discovers over 40% more relevant contracts – which not only gives you more contracts to choose from. But because the additionally discovered contracts are more difficult to find with traditional searches, they typically have fewer bidders and are thus easier to win.
If you have tendered for public contracts before or found contracts you wanted to submit a bid for but for some reason didn’t, Tenderlake can use this information to identify more similar contracts. Just point out a handful of historical contracts that you really liked through Tenderlake’s search function and Tenderlake will use this information to find similar open contracts.
Last, but by no means least, Tenderlake is also able to read and learn from your website, white papers and marketing materials and thereby understand what your organisation does, what outcome it delivers and use this understanding to identify relevant contracts.
This means you do not have to translate the description about what your organisation does into a search query that is often too simple to capture the full meaning of what you can offer.
This last functionality earned us the 1st Prize in the annual EU Datathon competition for best use of Artificial Intelligence and Public Procurement Data. We were the only UK organisation to make it to the final of sixteen.
All in all, Tenderlake not only helps you identify more relevant contracts from day one, but every day you work with Tenderlake, it learns and becomes more and more intelligent. It’s like having a really smart and eager assistant doing all the tedious work for you.
Tips for charities who want to tender for public contracts
1. Find the right contracts to bid for
It requires dedicated effort to craft a good and convincing bid. To improve your chances of success, make sure the contract you bid for are good and obvious fits for your organisation.
A good fit is not only where you can make a convincing case for why the contract should be awarded to your organisation. Also consider the size of the contract compared with the size of your organisation. A buyer may have concerns awarding a contract that is more than say 25% of an organisation’s annual income.
2. Commit the resources to tender for contracts on an ongoing basis
If you haven’t tendered for public contracts before, there will be some additional work in putting together the first bid. But a substantial part of what is produced for the first bid can be used again with subsequent bids, so the work and investment required to submit a bid tends to fall as you submit more bids and become more experienced.
3. Also consider frameworks
A contract will sometimes be referred to as a “framework”. A framework can be thought of as a pre-qualified list of suppliers and they are often easier to get on for smaller charities as the buyer can select a group of smaller and larger suppliers. This leads to less risk from the buyer’s perspective and can be a good way to land your first contract. With frameworks you may not know how much work you will get, but you are likely to get some and if you perform well, you are likely to get more.
4. Consider teaming up with others
If you can only fulfil part of a contract, consider teaming up with another charity or a private sector organisation. You can either lead the bid or be a subcontractor. Either way the contact will count towards your future references and give you valuable experience in bidding for public contracts.
I wish you all the success in bidding for tenders!
Flemming Madsen, Managing Director, Tenderlake.com
Flemming is the founder of Tenderlake, a leader in intelligent contract discovery. Prior to founding Tenderlake, Flemming, a software developer and data scientist, led AI development in a large health insurance company.
Tenderlake, based in London, is the winner of the 1st Prize in the EU Datathon 2018. It is also honoured by Google and Financial Times as a European Top 100 Digital Champion.