Responding to tenders
UK Government departments are obliged to offer contracts for work, including research work, in a fair a transparent process. Typically this means inviting bids for a project by publishing a tender notice publicly, e.g. in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU).
Managing the initial notice can be very onerous for the tendering organisation as it involves sifting through questions, assessing the tenderers and replying to the unsuccessful ones before they even start negotiating with the successful bidder.
Over the years the system has evolved so that pre-qualification is required. Instead of offering the tender to everyone, the buyer only offers it to a selected list of organisations who have pre-qualified (by registering with a certain website, answering questions about themselves and providing evidence of their suitability to do certain types of work/research).
The University of Leeds is registered with several websites which are used by publicly owned buyer organisations to mail out tender offers, including:
- Bravo Solutions
- Contracts Finder (UK Govt)
- Crown Commercial Service / DPS Research Marketplace
- Delta e-sourcing
If you hear of an opportunity to tender, contact your Faculty Research and Innovation Office (FRIO) who will then liaise with Research Operations to determine whether we are already registered as a University or the FRO/PI needs to register.
Make sure that the work is research by determining how it meets the Frascati definition.
Generally, tenders have short turnarounds with a fixed deadline, therefore everyone needs to be mobilised quickly.
The grant can be awarded within a couple of days/weeks, instead of the more standard six-nine months for other research grants. The work will typically start once confirmation of funding is received.
As an academic, you need to be proactive when working on tenders. It is important that you check with their FRIO’s early in the process, to clarify financial and scientific queries as guidance is usually less detailed than Research Council grants.
It is unlikely the tender documents will include typical costing and pricing terminology such as fEC, directly incurred, directly allocated, indirect costs/estates etc. These are not terms tenders tend to use. Contact your FRIO if you need help with presenting your budget.
Supplier questionnaires can appear under different names but are essentially questions about the University.
Check if a subcontractor (or Leeds as the subcontracted) is required to complete a supplier questionnaire. If required, contact your FRIO and start working on these together immediately. This is crucial as you may need to gather information from multiple departments across the University. The “useful information” document from RIS is a good starting point.
Check if the contract needs to be reviewed and agreed to as part of the submission of the application. You might be required to complete a CTER form.
Engage with the buyer and ask questions
In every tendering process you will be given the opportunity to submit questions about the tender documents before submitting your bid. Your questions and answers will be available for everyone to see (but published anonymously) to encourage a tendering process that is fair and equal for all parties involved.
This is hugely helpful in clarifying details and ensuring that all information is correct and phrased well. Making the most of this stage is vital, because your active contribution may help you win the tender.
Prepare your tender response
Writing a tender response is a skill. It takes time, practice and perseverance. If you do it well, it can be your key to winning tender opportunities within a marketplace where prompt payment is guaranteed.
- Before you start writing, make sure you have allowed yourself enough time to research the buyer.
- Understand what the buyer is looking for and tailor your response around this.
- Show the benefits you can give the buyer by solving their problems, and where you can add value.
- Show that you have the skills and experience to fulfil their requirements through evidence.
Submit your tender response
When you have written your tender response and it has been proof-read by multiple people, make sure it is submitted before the deadline.
If you submit it late, even by a few minutes, your tender will be automatically disqualified and all of your efforts will be wasted.
Your bid will then be scored and evaluated. In some cases, the contracting authority may invite you for an interview or site visit, to get a clearer idea of how you will deliver the project requirements.
After this process, you will be faced with one of two outcomes, known as ‘an award decision notice’:
- Outcome 1: you weren’t successful – always ask the contracting authority for a debrief. You are entitled to feedback of your performance throughout the procurement process, and it essential that you are given this.
- Outcome 2: you won the contract – even when you succeed, you are entitled to feedback about your performance. No one scores full marks, and there are always lessons to learn for next time.
A more detailed version of this guide is available on SharePoint page.