What it takes to win public sector contracts

Guy Battle, founder of Social Value Portal, explains the secrets to landing a government gig
Guy Battle
Workers plant trees in a public space

Gross spending on public sector procurement in the UK stands at around £379 billion, providing hugely significant opportunities for organisations of all shapes and sizes to win new contracts. 

Of course, competition is fierce so if you’re responsible for developing a new business pipeline, every possible advantage is worth pursuing and this can range from basics such as ensuring compliance to proving a thorough understanding of the tender’s needs and pain points.

We have worked both with those bidding for work as well as procurement and specifiers in the public sector for almost a decade, which gives us a unique perspective on what it takes to win contracts in the UK’s public sector.

Transparency first and foremost

The public sector is highly regulated. Transparency and equality of treatment is of paramount importance and therefore the entire process is understandably stringent and highly dependent on the written word. From the perspective of the decision makers, it is essential to have a paper trail, demonstrating that all suppliers have been treated equally - to the extent that conversations must be recorded and shared with all parties.

Know your competition

Find out who the incumbent is and, if possible, whether they will also be bidding for the work again. Networking such as attending market engagement events is a good way of raising your own profile in the sector while identifying who else you may be competing with. 

Researching competitors so that you can get a clear idea of what they are likely to say - as well as what their weaknesses are, should inform your own bid approach.

Have a clear strategy

Do not be tempted to bid for more than you can fulfil. Identify the contract(s) you can deliver the most effectively and work on developing the strongest tender proposal(s) to fit.

This may seem obvious, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to understand the tender contract requirements, making sure all queries are answered and the evidence you supply has relevant examples of operational, selling and marketing competence.

Take the time to grasp what challenges the department faces and identify ways in which your organisation can help them to overcome these issues. Brief your bid team well in advance so that the groundwork can be laid and the end result has the best chance of success. Leaving a bid submission until the last minute is never a good idea for obvious reasons.

Provide evidence, set targets and go above and beyond

The easier it is for decision makers to find out about you, the better. Everyone in the tender process is time poor so setting a clear path to examples of your work without sounding too promotional will work in your favour.

As well as strong case studies, sharing testimonials from existing customers is the magic ingredient that gives the buyer peace of mind - their main concern is mitigating risk after all.

Buyers need to feel confident that their objectives will be met, so setting out targets, showing how they have been calculated and how they will be met is an easy - but not always obvious - win.

Setting additional targets that go above and beyond the core requirements but are relevant to the contract is naturally a powerful way of demonstrating commitment and dependability.

Use your social value performance to win work

It’s been over a decade since the public sector was required by law to embed social value into all procurement. Initially, the weightings used for social value were hovering around 5%, but over the past few years, these have jumped considerably to be at least 10% - of often as much as 20%. This means that organisations looking to win more work with the public sector will stand a better chance if they have a well thought through social value strategy.  

For those unsure about what social value is, it is about bringing people and organisations together to collaborate on building flourishing and sustainable communities. The majority of organisations today are delivering social value, but many may not realise it - or know that it’s something that can be measured and reported.

For instance, organisations who buy and employ locally, have an apprenticeship scheme in place, employ those furthest from the job market, donate staff hours for volunteering in the community and/or have a plan to reduce carbon emissions are delivering social value. 

The widely recognised National TOMs measurement framework helps organisations to work out the value of these initiatives in financial terms that buyers and other stakeholders will relate to. So, we calculate that employing someone who is long-term unemployed is worth around £20,000 in social value, 50 volunteering hours donated is around £846 and removing one tonne of carbon emissions is the equivalent of £244 in social value - all of which can be justifiably reported in a tender submission.

At the end of the day, the mark of a successful bid is one that shows why it is best suited and most capable of delivering both financial and non-financial results. Focusing on how to give the buyer peace of mind will provide a good steer when working through the tender.

About Guy Battle

Originally a building engineer specialising in sustainable development, Guy’s career in sustainability and social value spans over 30 years. He is an experienced and recognised business leader, having set up three separate businesses in the sustainability field so far. 

He founded social value measurement tool and consultancy, Social Value Portal in 2014. Social Value Portal is an online solution that provides precise, standardised reporting to enable organisations to quantify and maximise the social value generated - making good go further. It provides the tools to measure, manage and report both financial and non-financial data in a meaningful, robust and transparent way for all stakeholders.

Written by
Guy Battle
Written by
February 14, 2023