Tendering for local authority contracts can be daunting for smaller businesses.
It’s not simply a question of delivering a product or service at a competitive price. There may be hoops to jump through around health and safety, environmental policy and quality assurance, for example.
That was the problem confronting Growing Concerns when South Lakeland Council retendered the contract for its Handy Person Scheme.
This helps elderly or vulnerable people carry out simple but essential work at their homes such as fitting locks, door bells or telephone extensions, installing grab rails, erecting shelves, and making minor repairs to fences and paths.
The householder pays for the materials but the council funds the labour.
Growing Concerns, based in Barrow, has delivered the service since the scheme was established 11 years ago.
The contract goes out to tender every three years but, as time has gone by, the process has become more complex and demanding.
Director Marie Shields said: “It was a lot simpler the last time we tendered three years ago. We knew we could compete on price and service, but we found all the jargon around the tender process difficult.
Shirley was brilliant. If we hadn’t had her help we would still have tendered but I’m not certain we’d have been successful.
“It was the procurement officer at South Lakeland who suggested that we contact the Chamber’s Cumbria Business Growth Hub.”
The Growth Hub operates the Supply Chain Gateway, which helps SMEs to win work with large private and public-sector organisations.
Growing Concerns was allocated an adviser, Shirley Newman, who is a Chartered Waste Manager and an Associate Member of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment.
She helped to submit the tender and made sure that all the paper work met South Lakeland’s requirements.
This involved reviewing and updating Growing Concerns’ health and safety policy and developing environmental and quality policies, a draft health and safety manual, a risk assessment template, a training matrix, and a personal protective equipment checklist template.
The work paid off – Growing Concerns has retained the contract for another three years.
Marie said: “Shirley was brilliant. She explained everything clearly.
“If we hadn’t had her help we would still have tendered but I’m not certain we’d have been successful.”
Losing the contract would have been very serious.
Growing Concerns was established by Marie’s husband David in 1999, originally as a garden maintenance contractor.
It has only two customers. One is South Lakeland, the other Barrow Borough Council for which it looks after public conveniences and street furniture.
Marie added: “We employ five people and if we’d lost the Handy Person contract we would have had to make redundancies.”
At Shirley’s suggestion, Growing Concerns is now looking for private sector work so that it is not entirely reliant on two customers.
Shirley said: “When it comes to tendering for local authority contracts, it’s a case of understanding what is needed.
“Many small businesses don’t hold information in the format required.
It’s a case of having the right documentation and keeping on top of it.
“They are doing the right things – they’re doing risk assessments and using personal protective equipment, for example.
“But it’s a case of being able to demonstrate that, of having the right documentation and, once you have it, keeping on top of it.”
She believes that, now that Growing Concerns has systems in place, it will be able to tender for future council contracts without outside assistance.
The help that Growing Concerns received through the Supply Chain Gateway came free of charge, thanks to funding from the European Regional Development Fund and other partners.
To find out how the Supply Chain Gateway can assist your business, click here.
We can, for example, help businesses attain accreditations that may be necessary, and to write proposals that meet the procurement criteria.
We offer courses to help win business, such as writing winning proposals, writing to sell, winning public sector contracts, and presentation skills.+
The Supply Chain section of the Cumbria Business Growth Hub website has a wealth of useful information too.
You can download webinars on supplying the nuclear sector, food businesses, manufacturing businesses and the public sector.
And there is specific information about the procurement criteria of some of Cumbria’s largest businesses such as BAE Systems, Booths, the Box Encapsulation Plant (BEP) Project at Sellafield, Innovia Films, Morgan Sindall and Pirelli, and on supplying the Ministry of Defence.
The funding that supports the Growth Hub this comes from a range of sources including Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, the European Regional Development Fund, Allerdale Borough Council (Sellafield Ltd’s Allerdale SIIF, distributed by Allerdale Borough Council), Barrow Borough Council (FEDF Coastal Communities Fund Supply Chain Initiative, the Coastal Communities Fund is funded by the Government with income from the Crown Estates marine assets; it is delivered by the Big Lottery Fund on behalf of UK Government), Carlisle City Council, Eden District Council, South Lakeland District Council and Cumbria LEP.
The Growth Hub is receiving up to £2,528,767 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. Likewise, BSUS is receiving up to £1,112,686 of funding, Cumbria Forum project is receiving £446,000 of funding, and the Subsidy Scheme £2,528,767.
The Department for Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information click here.