‘Go online to win public contracts' is the advice being given to businesses by the Forum of Private Business (FPB) following the government's decision to scrap charges on its contracts opportunities website, supply2.gov.uk.
The government move to ditch the policy of charging a maximum £180 per year to use the service follows recommendations made in the Glover review of public procurement, which was published in November 2008.
The review found that too few small businesses are able to access contracts and as a result innovations and savings are being missed by public sector buyers.
Public sector contracts are worth £175b annually, £11b of which is spent on travel, facilities management and food. This figure is set to decrease by 2012, with the Government aiming to save £870m in these areas.
The FPB is urging the government to fast-track measures outlined in the review to make tendering more accessible, most of which are not scheduled to be implemented until 2010.
Vic Laws, food service consultant director for AVL Consultancy, said the trend for tendering to go online is basically a good idea but questioned whether standardised information and financial forms are enough.
"It makes the process speedier, but it also regiments it. There's no room for individual flare," he said. "There is still value in a client seeing the quality of material in a hard copy."
One of the Glover review's key recommendations was to create greater transparency in public sector tendering via better advertising and more information accessible through a single, free-to-use and easy-to-search online portal.
Last year, the Government announced that the supply2.gov.uk service for lower-value public sector contracts would be available free of charge on a trial basis of just three months. At the time, the FPB said it should be free indefinitely.
Tim Williams, managing director of Millstream Associates and the FPB's adviser on public sector tendering, urged business owners to take action and bid for public work.
"Public spending levels are staying constant at the moment and some spending is being brought forward to boost the economy," he says. "There'll be cuts in future years though, so make hay while the sun shines."
The FPB's top tips for businesses to win public contracts include:
• Source reliable and timely information on available contracts.
• Ensure your business is properly prepared for the Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) process.
• Fill out the forms carefully and accurately.
• Avoid surprises by finding out as much as you can about each specific tender process and what is expected of you.
• Try to build a relationship with the buyer.
• Keep it short, neat and relevant, and include relevant images.
By Janie Stamford
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