Home News Cumbrian businesses miss out on contracts worth millions

Cumbrian businesses miss out on contracts worth millions


Hundreds of small and medium-sized businesses in Cumbria are missing out on opportunities to supply larger businesses and the public sector.

Sometimes they don’t tender for the work because they find the whole process daunting and time consuming. And sometimes they fail because they don’t meet the buyer’s procurement criteria.

The construction firm Eric Wright Group has been seeking suppliers and sub-contractors in Cumbria after winning contracts to build two care homes here, along with delivery of maintenance and bridge and carriageway projects.

Phil Richardson
Phil Richardson

Phil Richardson, Quality and Environmental Manager, says that lack of insurance is the most common reason for rejecting potential suppliers.

He said: “If they don’t have the insurances they don’t make the list.

“We require that our suppliers have £10m of employer liability cover, £5m in public liability, £5m product liability and £1m in professional indemnity cover.

“Often, they have these insurances but insufficient cover.

“Accreditations such as ISO, CHAS and Constructionline are desirable but not deal breakers. That said if we have two potential suppliers that are similar on price and quality – and one of them has accreditations while the other hasn’t – we are likely to choose the one with accreditations.

“The other pitfall is prosecutions for health and safety and environmental lapses. We avoid suppliers with current or pending prosecutions.”

It’s a similar story at the regional supermarket Booths, which has a policy of sourcing from local food producers.

Click here to listen to a podcast on how to supply the likes of Booths, Tesco and McDonald’s

Caroline Catterall, Supplier Relationship Manager at Booths, said: “Suppliers are required to have the right ingredient and nutritional information on labels, as this is expected from customers.

“It’s better if they have the relevant accreditations or are at least taking steps to put them in place.

“We like suppliers to be cost aware and have a recommended retail price in mind.  We also like suppliers to consider their ability to scale up production should their products prove popular with customers.”

Rob Johnston, Chief Executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, said: “It’s hard to quantify but we suspect that many SMEs are missing out on contracts that could be worth millions of pounds in total.

“It really is a matter of perception. We know from talking to smaller businesses that some are deterred from tendering for work with large organisations because they think they won’t succeed.

Click here to find out how the Supply Chain Gateway can assist your business

“That’s nonsense. In fact, many large businesses are keen to engage local SME suppliers to meet their corporate social responsibility targets.

“There can be obstacles, as the examples cited by Booths and Eric Wright Group show, but they can be overcome.

“That’s why the Chamber’s business support arm, Cumbria Business Growth Hub, set up the Supply Chain Gateway.

“It offers a wide range of assistance to help SMEs tender for and win contracts from larger private and public sector organisations.

“Much of that support is free to eligible businesses thanks to funding from the European Regional Development Fund and other partners.”

Be SMART Cumbria is one of the businesses to have benefited.

Sally Burrow
Sally Burrow

Sally Burrow set up the consultancy in Workington in 2012 after taking redundancy from her role as a facilities adviser as Cumbria County Council.

Now her business performs many of the functions of her old job after Be SMART Cumbria secured a contract to support a consortium of 24 schools in West Cumbria.

Sally said: “We audit the school kitchens, which includes food safety and food standards and administration of school meals including paying all the invoices and managing the budget.”

Sally had a clear understanding of what was involved and had all the necessary professional accreditations.

Read here how the Supply Chain Gateway helped Growing Concerns retain a contract with SLDC

But the world of tendering and contracts was completely alien to her, which is where the Supply Chain Gateway helped.

She said: “I was clueless about all that but my Growth Hub adviser, Kevin Thistlethwaite, gave me things to think about.

“We worked together to produce a proposal, highlighting Be SMART Cumbria’s strengths and relating them to the specific requirements of the consortium.

“He advised me on pricing and on the terms and conditions and he helped to put all the information across in readily-accessible tables and diagrams.”

The Supply Chain Gateway helps SMEs understand what procurers in large organisations expect from suppliers and how to comply with their criteria.

SMEs get access to professional advisers, sources of funding, networking opportunities, training courses and workshops.

There is a business directory, interactive tools and an events diary.

Click here to listen to our podcast on how to win work in the nuclear sector

Large procurers such as Innovia, BAE Systems, Pirelli, Booths, the Box Encapsulation Plant at Sellafield, Morgan Sindall, Eric Wright Group and Cumbria County Council are participating.

Modules and short video presentations explain what SMEs need to do to supply them. There are also lists of tender opportunities.

The Growth Hub links businesses to other available support, such as the Cumbria Manufacturing Service and Fit for Nuclear.

We also offer courses to help win business, such as writing winning proposals, writing to sell, winning public sector contracts, and presentation skills.

Here are some of the courses coming up in the next two months:

Document control: understanding lifetime records, September 12th, Workington. To find out more and book click here.

Risk and resilience management, September 17th, Workington, click here.

Understanding contracts for non-lawyers, September 19th, Penrith, click here.

How to write winning bids, October 8th, Penrith, click here.

Get your business fit to tender, Penrith, October 26th, click here.

For more information about the Supply Chain Gateway, and how you could benefit, contact our Supply Chain Development Manager Eva Foran on 0844 257 84 50 or email eva@cumbriachamber.co.uk.

ERDFThe 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.  The Ministry for Housing 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.





© Cumbria Chamber of Commerce


  1. As a very small business, which has worked with big corporations, I assert that the main obstacle to bidding for big contracts with public authorities is the absurdly difficult paperwork trail that has to be followed. There is a system called the Hub which is enough to put off anyone, except those companies big enough to employ full-time teams to fill in the forms, provide the evidence and navigate the labrynth-like on-line application process. That is assuming you have the resources to even find out about the opportunities in the first place.


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