Sinéad Moloney, NEPO Supplier & Social Value Development Specialist, and Garry Stone of B2B North, NEPO's Business Club trainer, give advice for businesses on how to find and apply for public sector tender opportunities.
What is NEPO and what services does it offer to businesses?
The North East Procurement Organisation (NEPO) is a public buying organisation (PBO) which collaboratively procures goods, services and works on behalf of the 12 local authorities in the North East. The contracts, frameworks and procurement solutions that NEPO develops are also used by hundreds of public sector organisations across the UK,
In addition, NEPO administers the NEPO Portal - an e-tendering system which advertises both NEPO and local authority quotations and tenders.
Supporting local businesses and organisations to win public sector opportunities is a key strand of our activity. NEPO consult with the market for all collaborative procurements prior to publication of the tender, and the NEPO Business Club offers a range of free training, events and workshops designed to help businesses win and grow.
NEPO’s support ranges from introducing businesses to public sector procurement, support with compliance, advice on bid writing and social value, plus one-to-one surgeries with specialist business advisers.
Why should businesses consider submitting tenders to public sector organisations?
The local authority public sector market in the North East is worth £2.68bn and supply chain opportunities for North East business are increasing.
Public Contract Regulations were revised a few years ago, leading to the introduction of new procurement processes such as dynamic purchasing systems which are less onerous for bidders.
In addition to this, the Social Value Act and the release of the Local Government Association’s Social Value Themes, Outcomes and Measures means that businesses are encouraged to develop their social value offer and can now be recognised for their good work by scoring additional points in tenders. This is an exciting new development that NEPO and local authorities have been at the forefront of in the UK and piloting across a range of procurements recently.
What resources are available to help businesses in the North East find out about opportunities to tender?
As well as free training delivered through NEPO Business Club, we would advise businesses to register on the NEPO Portal. This will ensure that businesses are aware of competitive opportunities emerging from North East local authorities. NEPO also offer support in using the Portal, through one to one sessions or through a dedicated helpdesk.
We also have a range of guides available on the NEPO website, covering topics including how to find local, regional and national opportunities.
How can businesses find out about opportunities with the North East local authorities?
Opportunities are emailed to businesses who have registered with the NEPO Portal daily.
There is also the NEPO Contracts Register which details frameworks and contracts currently being delivered across the region. This holds a wealth of business intelligence and can be used to find out when current contracts expire, current incumbent suppliers and the value of opportunities.
How does procurement in the public sector differ from procurement in the private sector?
Public sector procurement is subject to Public Regulations which means there are clear rules about the timing, format and scoring of tenders. This makes processes much more consistent and open – for example, there is clear scoring against set criteria for each question.
Public sector contracts will be advertised and procured electronically, via platforms such as the NEPO Portal, so everyone can access the tender and all documentation. Once the tender is released, the organisation running the procurement cannot discuss anything with individual companies, and can only answer questions that are published and answered publicly so that everyone gets exactly the same information.
The public sector is accountable for showing best value, so it is not just about price. Each tender will combine a ‘quality score’ (questions about how you will deliver the contract) and ‘price’ score. More and more often now there is a separate score for social value – this is what additional community benefits the awarded supplier can offer the residents and communities in the North East.
Decisions made then have to be published, and companies who have submitted bids receive their score, the winning score, and feedback on key areas of the bid. Details of the decision are added to a ‘Contract Register’ where anyone can see what has been awarded, when, and to who.
Do businesses have to be of a certain size in order to tender for public sector opportunities?
Absolutely not. You can win a bid as a start-up, or even when writing your business plan. You can win if you are an established family-run business, as well as a larger company.
We have seen strong, local, small providers win local contracts when competing against large multi-nationals, and companies. A small contract of a few thousand pounds can quickly lead to a larger contract as they prove their capability.
It’s not how large you are, it’s about how you can reassure the purchaser that you have the capacity and capability to safely deliver the contract.
Where can businesses find out about opportunities beyond the North East?
Contracts Finder is the Government’s one-stop-shop for public sector opportunities and all public sector bodies are required to publish on this site. More information about Contracts Finder is available on the NEPO website.
Businesses can also opt in to receive opportunities from across the UK when they set up their NEPO Portal account.