Monday, 19 November 2007

Making Tendering Easier

This could easily be seen as a consultant having a whinge, so please consider yourself warned, but I think that there is a real issue underneath.

We have been asked to reregister as suppliers to a major public agency (a regional development agency). They have changed their processes for publishing tenders, and so have requested all existing suppliers to re-register. This we have done, even though there is no open tender suitable for us at the moment.

The reregistering of information was particularly onerous, including not only evidence of policies, accounts and insurances (all of which are available to us, if not exactly at hand) but also 5 referees. All 5 referees were then contacted to check on our credentials.

This is not unusal, though5 referees is more than the usual 3.

My question is whether this is appropriate or helpful. Certainly it showed that we had 2 more customers willing to vouch for us than usual, but does that really prove anything? If we had a poor project we would not have used them as reference, so I don't think you get more confirmation of the quality of the supplier.

Also, as we have worked for this client many times in the past 5 years there is an evidence base within the organisation which is surely more accurate than the views of clients that I get to select as referees. Wouldn't it be better to look up performance on past contracts instead?

The 5 referees is of course an example of incidental bias against new start companies - somthing that goes against the small business concordiat.

My main point though is that this is all evidence that we have presented many times to the public sector - and will no doubt be required to present again next time we tender. This is not a value adding activity for any of the suppliers - or the client.

The One Form project in St. Helens is a pilot trying to address this by getting all the local suppliers to register just once at a central point, and for all of the public sector agencies to then use that information for tendering processes. This seems to me to be a sensible way forward, and I would like to think that this could be achieved for the whole of the UK public sector.

This does require a rather high level of co-operation between a wide range of agencies, but we can hope - can't we?

As further point, One Form is free - another advantage that goes against the recent practice of some local authorities, who again unintentionall discriminate against micro and sme suppliers who cannot afford to register with multiple LAs.

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