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The SERIOUS barriers to success when bidding for government contracts

The SERIOUS barriers to success when bidding for government contracts

Finally, HMG is starting to come good in its promise to put 25% of government procurement in front of SMEs and other small suppliers. A new search website has been launched, where you can find and bid for a whole range of smaller contracts ranging from managing a construction project to window cleaning council buildings. Let’s just hope they remove some of the barriers that used to be there.

To be fair this kind of work has been on offer for some time. The Supply2Gov initiative has been dropping tender opportunities into my Inbox for the last two years. Sadly none have really been in my particular field of expertise, but at least they are there to be won if they were.

Apart, that is, for one small detail. The Pre-Qualification Questionnaire or PQQ

To be allowed to bid for any such work you have first to be approved as a potential supplier and the PQQ is the mechanism by which this is done. It is not a trivial document; it’s several pages long and, as you might expect, asks a lot of questions and seeks a lot of detail. It is trying to establish that you have the skills, expertise, resources and financial stability to do the job, which is fair enough. The problem is the parameters it sets to achieve it.

You have to prove that you have delivered the same piece of work, successfully, at least three times in the recent past. This is OK if you supply repeatable services such as the aforementioned window cleaning, or supplying desktop PCs or install Pelican crossings. It gets a bit harder – actually, a lot harder – if you are talking about softer skills such as project management, service improvements or even website design. This, no doubt, is a reflection of the lack of awareness at the buyers end of how some of these things work. For example, a school website may look very similar to one built for a retail outlet, but the underlying business model is very different. On the other hand, installing a Pelican Crossing or building a datacentre are, to a project manager, very similar operations indeed.

You have to demonstrate that you have at least three times the available finance than the project is worth. For the average project delivery role, the kind of thing I would be involved with, that means you need around £150,000 free capital in the bank. For a one man company to be sitting on that kind of reserves is just a little optimistic.

Finally to bid for the bigger pieces of work, you need to get together a team to deliver the work. Being contractors, that means either you bid for the work and sub-contract the work, or you form a consortium and bid as a single entity. Except that a single contractor is highly unlikely to have the financial backing demanded for what is now a substantial piece of work, and the individual members of a consortium aren’t allowed to aggregate skills and experience and finances, they are treated individually.

So all in all, it was a good idea but the delivery mechanism had some serious, and for some insurmountable, barriers to success. Let’s hope the new process is a little more user-friendly.

About the author: Alan Watts

Alan has worked in IT for most of the last 35 years, and first went freelance in 1996. He has been a PCG member from its start and has been spreading the message that freelancing is a professional career choice for many years. Alan also runs Malvolio’s Blog, a personal but highly informative take on the life of the modern freelance.

Alan Watts, Principal Consultant, LPW Computer Services

© 2011 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited<

Image: My Cartoon by justDONQUE.images

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