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Tendering – developing a future of fairness and transparency

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At Precise, we’re accustomed to local authority and housing association tendering, and I (Scott) was delighted recently when I was invited to attend a Scottish Procurement Alliance (SPA) event set up to help make the whole tendering process fairer, more accurate and more transparent.

For anyone who doesn’t know them, the SPA acts as a kind of intermediary between the client, who might be the likes of a housing association or local authority, and the contractors who are looking to tender for their work.  They effectively sit in the middle of the two parties and are currently working on a way of facilitating the best possible match between client and contractor.

Work allocated on merit

The way tendering typically works in Scotland is that the client posts their job on an online portal and then the contractor pitches for the work.  In the past there has been criticism of the system, as it was accused of favouring the same contractors for the same work with the same clients over and over again.

The purpose of the event I attended was to make the whole tendering playing field more level, more accurate and more transparent.  A level playing field with more transparency and work detail breakdown would enable some smaller, perfectly qualified and suited contractors to compete head on with big contractors.  It would also mean that work could be awarded on merit, with genuine understanding of the work involved.  The whole notion is that work can be spread between contractors and not automatically allocated to XYZ contractor because it’s “always been that way”.  It also encourages an ideal fit between contractor and client.

A new way of preparing for tender

Normally these types of tenders come up every four years or so.  They are published on a public portal to which contractors can gain access.  A typical request for tender might cover anything from asbestos to water, but our particular interest at Precise is heating, and gas safety service and maintenance.

During the SPA event we examined an upcoming tender prior to the framework tender going live.  There were a handful of contractors around the table who would be bidding and the SPA aim was to find out what we would like to see in the tender request and how we would like the work to be broken down.

As far as I’m aware, it’s the first time this sort of collaboration has happened.  And, for me it makes great sense.

Just to put this into context, domestic gas servicing and maintenance is completely different to commercial gas servicing and maintenance, yet they’re often clumped together in a tender request.  What this means is that if a client holds a stock of domestic and commercial buildings, they could lump them all together into one tender request and call the job “gas safety and servicing” – but this makes no sense.  Why?  Because there are contractors who’ll be able to do the domestic part, others the commercial part, and certain both.  In my view, to get the best person for the job, the details need to be broken down.

The devil’s in the detail

Both domestic and commercial gas servicing and maintenance have their own peculiarities, and their own required qualifications, competencies, and compliance.  When tendering, it’s essential that the contractor fulfils all the requirements of the job.  This is why accuracy of information at the tender request stage is essential.

The secret to publishing a great tender request is in the detail – particularly when it comes to commercial gas work.  With domestic gas work, it’s simpler.  A contractor is qualified to work with domestic gas.  With commercial, you need to go and do each exam separately.  That’s why domestic and commercial need to be separated and then commercial needs to be further broken down to make sure the contractors pitching for the work can tick all the boxes.

And then take renewable technologies.  Not all companies will be up to speed with the likes of air source heat pump design and installation – so again this calls for detail.

So, for local authorities and housing associations to be sure they’re getting the best contractors to do their jobs, when it comes to writing tender requests, like most things in business, the devil’s in the detail.

The best contractor for the client

The SPA’s objective is to get the best companies tendering for each job, and to do so, the job detail needs to be crystal clear in the tender request.  This is what we spent the day discussing and analysing.

From a personal point of view, I find this sort of exchange forward-thinking, healthy, and encouraging.  It means we’re moving away from the same contractors appearing time after time on big jobs and moving towards jobs being allocated on merit.  This will in turn enable a more level playing field where smaller companies have an interest in upskilling and growing.  It makes great sense – not just for contractors but for the whole future of the economy.

Building bridges for the future

The SPA event was a 2-day affair, with the contractors in the room on Day 1 and the clients on Day 2. The overall goal was to build a bridge between the two parties so that each could better understand the other.

In practical terms, we were discussing a job (in September) where the tender request mightn’t go live until December or January, with a submission date of April and even then, the work might only start in June/July.  Tendering isn’t an overnight process and, at Precise, we’re in it for the long run.  But hopefully, the approach being discussed by the SPA, if adopted, will help make the whole process more transparent, more thorough and will mean that there are fewer surprises on site once the work gets started.

There were only maybe about six or seven companies at the event, so I saw it as a great chance to get our name out there alongside the big players and get to better understand the process behind the technology.  This kind of open exchange is new to all of us, and we see it as a great way to enable the key players to find out more about Precise – about who we are, what we do, how we work and what makes us tick.

There are exciting times ahead – that’s for sure.  Bring it on.

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