The public sector spends nearly £280 billion pounds on essential goods and services per annum. This presents a huge opportunity for suppliers. There is a strong alignment between public sector buyers and social enterprises, both have a mandate to do good and exist to ensure communities thrive. So how can the VCSE sector maximise its chances of success when bidding for public sector contracts?
Understand the legislation
From January 1st 2021, the Central Government published the new social value model. This states that social value must be “explicitly evaluated” in all central government procurement rather than just ‘considered’ as previously required under the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012. The minimum weighting applied to social value in government tenders is 10% but some authorities like GMCA are increasing this to 20%.
This is good news for VCSE suppliers as it means that social value will soon be a standardised, compulsory aspect of government procurement, and could make a decisive difference where there’s close competition. Social enterprises will now have an inherent advantage, with government supply chains offering an exciting area of growth in the years ahead.
Work out public sector motivations
When approaching public sector buyers, it’s worth thinking about what motivates them both at an organisational and individual level, and tailoring your offer to fit this agenda. For example, do they have particular impact goals and targets you can help them to reach? Finding out how they measure their impact e.g. using The National TOMs framework, can help you to align how you talk about your work in a way that speaks to the metrics they are using.
Although there is a move away from cost being a decisive factor, some buyers in the public sector are still partially or mostly driven by this. Social enterprises can be the more expensive option. Maybe not by much but this is understandable given the considerations for service users and clients.
This doesn’t mean that social enterprises can’t save money for buyers. Take 'Recycling Lives' for example, a waste management social enterprise that, in the last two years, have created over £9m in social value through savings to society by rehabilitating and employing ex-offenders. Being able to communicate the added value your social enterprise is offering will help to alleviate any concerns around pricing.
The Social Procurement Round-up keeps those motivated by impact in business up to date with the latest in social enterprise, sustainability and CSR.
Engaging with public sector buyers and opportunities before they have gone to market can help you to get ahead of the game. The three main ways of engaging early are as follows:
Talking to commissioners or getting involved in ‘co-designing services before a contract specification is written. Search “early engagement” on Contracts Finder and research and talk to commissioners you might want to work with for more information.
Networking; if public sector buyers know your organisation exists they’ll often reach out to you and invite you to take part or let you know when they’ve set up early engagement activities. Attending ‘meet the buyer' events allows you to talk to buyers about how to bid, what their organisation’s future plans are and how they approach public services.
Participate in a bidders’ events. Buyers frequently run events immediately before or during the early stages of a tender process. The purpose is to explain the documentation and objectives of a specific project. It offers suppliers the chance to ask specific questions about the process. Search “future opportunity” on Contracts Finder for more information.
Engage with subcontractors
When we think about the public sector it’s also important to think about who is in their supply chain too. Legislation like the social value model also needs to be considered by large contractors in order for them to score highly on social value requirements. This provides a good opportunity for social enterprises, which can act as social value partners for larger private firms, allowing them to subcontract to create the impact needed to win these contracts. Contracts Finder publishes details of suppliers who are awarded government tenders, so keep an eye out to understand who is winning contracts that might be of interest to your organisation’s line of work.
Get support from Intermediaries
Engaging with VCSE sector support organisations can be a great way to get further advice on how to access public sector tenders and what you need to be 'contract ready'. Supply Change has a number of services to help suppliers get ready to work with public sector organisations. We regularly run ‘meet the buyer’ online events to connect you directly with buyers, sign up to our newsletter to find out more. By becoming a member of the Supply Change platform your profile will be promoted to our network of public sector buyers and contractors. Register interest here.
Contracts Finder is the government’s single online portal on which contracts valued above £10,000 in central government and above £25,000 in the rest of the non-devolved public sector are listed. It’s free to use to find opportunities.
Social Supplier Dynamic Purchasing System powered by Supply Change and Orbit is specifically designed for VCSE suppliers only. A Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS) allows for the tendering, bidding and awarding of contracts in one place. This DPS gives social suppliers better access to procurement opportunities.
Supply Change facilitates more traded income for social enterprise suppliers. We connect social enterprises with motivated buyers to create high returns for business, people and the planet.
Our services are free to businesses with a core social or environmental mission.