Frequently Asked Questions
These FAQs aim to provide some information on the most frequently raised topics that come up in relation to public procurement:
The public sector is comprised of a great many different organisations, from district and borough councils to unitary and County councils, national parks, fire and health services and many more and each of these different organisations has a very different focus and sometimes it is not always easy to standardise what we all do. The Devon and Cornwall Procurement Partnership aims as far as possible to look for ways of standardising the approaches of all of the member organisations.
The Contract Procedure Rules/Standing Orders for Contracts for each organisation will clarify the value of the contracts that the organisation is obliged to advertise publicly. Those that are not required to be advertised will be sent direct to suitable companies under a quotation procedure. Others may be procured using existing framework agreements, dependent upon the suitability of the framework agreement to meet the organisation’s needs and value for money considerations.
Public sector organisations must apply the principles of equality of treatment, non-discrimination and fairness to all of their purchasing decisions, which means that Authorities must consider all bids it receives equally. Public sector organisations may put local purchasing policies in place but these are only likely to apply to their lower value contracts.
Full debrief letters are required for procurements that exceed a particular value (£172,512 for goods and services, £625,000 for social and other specific services and £4,322,012 for works) under the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, which is the legislation that governs public sector bodies’ procurement activities. Authorities are not legally obliged to provide full debrief information in the letters that they send out to unsuccessful candidates under those thresholds. Should you require feedback you should contact the relevant Procurement Team.
Potential Applicants are advised to provide all of the information that is requested at the time that it is required, make sure that your answer accurately reflects your company and that you are capable of fulfilling the offer made, take account of how your answers will be evaluated by looking at the evaluation criteria, weightings, marking guidelines and the requesting authorities’ minimum requirements where these are detailed, if in doubt ask clarification questions and ensure that you submit your bid in advance of the deadline.
We understand the view that the tender documents that we use are cumbersome and excessive. However, there are procedural requirements that the Authorities must meet so as to be compliant with their internal rules as well as the procurement legislation meaning that often it is not through choice that the documents appear as they do. Furthermore, we are generally inclined to provide more rather than less guidance to reduce the need for clarification questions and to provide applicants with the information that they need to be able to prepare and submit a bid. The information within the documents is therefore extremely important in providing details about the way that bids should be structured, i.e. whether there is a word count, whether a font type and/or size should be used, what the deadline time and date is, to which electronic procurement portal they should be sent and how they will be evaluated.
Public sector authorities are subject to some complex rules around extending, adding to or making changes to existing contracts, so it shouldn’t be assumed that you can provide additional services or goods to the organisation/s under the existing contracts. If you believe that you have an innovation to an existing contract, speak to the Procurement Team in the first instance.
Public sector authorities are obliged to publish details of their public tender opportunities electronically either via their websites or an electronic tendering system. Potential applicants should look at the procurement pages of the Authorities’ websites in the first instance or on the cabinet Office’s Contract Finder. In relation to the Councils across the Devon region, a single common electronic tendering system called Supplying the South West is used and the Police Authority use the Bluelight system. Other Authorities may use other systems. The public sector also has to publish details of their awarded contracts and again suppliers can look on the Authorities’ web pages or on Contracts Finder.
This is to make sure honesty and integrity is maintained throughout the process and that the process is handled in a consistently fair and competitive manner. The public sector organisation is always happy to answer questions specifically about a tender and specification if a prospective Applicant has any and the Authority will ensure consistency in the information provided to Applicants.
Bidders convicted by final judgement of money laundering, fraud, corruption, bribery or participation in a criminal organisation must be excluded from participating in tenders and will be notified of this in writing. Bidders may also be excluded on other discretionary grounds, such as poor financial performance or a failure to provide evidence of suitable experience. This will be detailed in the procurement documents.
As long as the criteria for participation are met and the offer is of the appropriate quality (or better), at a competitive cost, there is no reason why companies cannot attract business from the public sector. The public sector applies fairness and equality of treatment in awarding contracts in line with achieving best value for citizens and the taxpayer.
E-tendering refers to the electronic advertising of requirements for good or services, registering suppliers, issuing and receiving tender documents and evaluating responses over the internet, using tools such as the Supplying the South West website. E-procurement combines internet technology with procurement best practice to streamline the purchasing processes, increase efficiency in the ordering process and reduce costs for both contracting authorities and suppliers. Some e-procurement tools that you may be aware of include purchase cards, electronic marketplaces and procure-to-pay (P2P).
Often when applicants complete tender documents they are asked to provide their innovative solutions in response to a particular question, or throughout their response as high marks are awarded for innovation. However, innovative or alternative solutions do not simply have to be presented as part of the applicants’ main bid; they can be presented as alternatives or variants instead, where this is allowed. Potential bidders should read the tender documents carefully to check the procedure but generally you would be required to complete and submit a solution that is compliant with the specification as it was presented by the public sector organisation and complete and submit a second bid, marked as a variant or alternative and pointing out the differences between that and the standard bid. All standard and variant bids will be evaluated against the same evaluation criteria.
False. Public sector authorities are legally obliged to treat all applicants in a procurement process equally and that means that the same evaluation criteria and marking guidelines must be applied to existing suppliers and new applicants alike. Do not reply on the authority’s previous knowledge of your company as this won’t count during evaluation.
True. It is unlawful for public sector authorities to change the evaluation criteria during a quotation or tender evaluation process without giving the applicants the opportunity to change their bids as a result. The Authority may do this by re-advertising the opportunity, where it is legally obliged to do so, or notifying the applicants and giving them additional time to complete their bid. The Authority is not able to introduce new criteria or change the weightings of existing criteria once quotations or tenders have been received.
False. The clarification stage of a procurement process is very important to both suppliers and procurement officers, as they help to raise issues with the drafting of procurement documents, they help suppliers to understand the process and often they can lead to the simplification of the documents for applicants. The clarification stage of a procurement procedure is not taken in to account during evaluation as to do so would breach the core principles of equality of treatment and non discrimination.
False. The legislation that governs how the public sector delivers its procurement activities has previously made it difficult for procurement officers to include pre-procurement market research and post-tender negotiations in to the procurement process as it was vague on these topics and gave rise to the risk of legal challenge. However, the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 provides much clearer guidance on this now and this will feature more heavily in procurement processes in the future.
True. Public sector organisations will generally ask bidders to declare what information in their tender documents they consider to be commercially confidential and will endeavour to protect that information wherever possible. However, with an increasing emphasis on the need for transparency, in order to comply with the Freedom of Information Act 2000, public sector organisations cannot guarantee that bidders’ information will be kept exempt from public disclosure. Furthermore, the public sector is routinely required to report on a range of data through such forums as contracts registers, including the name and organisation type of the applicants to whom a contract has been awarded, the total value of the contract and the contract terms and conditions.
False. Suppliers that are in this situation may be required to give information concerning their company; any financial or criminal difficulties that they have faced in the past, any contracts that have been cancelled, any tribunals that they have been requested to attend, or similar and evidence of any actions that they have put in place to remedy the issues and the public sector organisations are required to give due regard to those actions taken to resolve the problem. This combined with the requirement by public sector organisations to treat all suppliers equally and with non-discrimination during procurements means that contracts must be awarded to the applicant that is best able to explain what it is capable of providing in the future as opposed to how it has failed in the past.