The following article provides an overview of the sector, including communication and marketing channels for those targeting national and local government-led construction projects. In addition, for those wishing to focus on opportunities in the social housing sector, we also maintain a separate database of 500 procurement contacts at UK Housing Associations. (You must be logged in to view this. Alternatively, it may be bought separately in our Shop.)
The UK Government’s National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline programme of public sector investment offers potential construction contracts totalling many billions of pounds annually. In its analysis, published in 2019, it stated that the Pipeline contains over £600bn of projected public and private investment up to the year 2027-2028.
In partnership with construction project lead providers, Barbour ABI, the Government has made information on the individual projects in the Pipeline easily available in the form of a frequently updated, interactive map. The map is free to access and projects can be filtered by value, sub-sector and start date. It can be viewed here.
In addition to the Pipeline information the Government publishes an ‘Annual Report on Major Projects’ (published Summer 2019), the Government states that it is “…….collectively delivering a portfolio of major projects which is worth over £440bn. Many are larger than the biggest projects in the private sector, and all are transforming our country. Some are amongst the biggest in the world.” It is important to note here that, in this context, ‘major projects’ includes many non-construction investment plans, however the report does break out the infrastructure and construction projects and estimates the value of these at £210bn, covering some 32 major projects.
Whilst compiling the database, we researched named individuals who have been selected as having purchasing authority or influence for estates or other construction related services as part of their job responsibilities. Each entry also includes the organisation name, address, contact number and email address (approximately 90% of which are name-specific). As part of their annual subscription, subscribers may now download the database here.
Public Procurement Supplier Requirements
The perception is that large and established organisations will have a substantial advantage over smaller and/or younger companies when tendering to public sector organisations (PSOs) because they are a known quantity and have a proven track record. However, whilst the perception is not entirely without foundation, these advantages can be exaggerated. Given that in its 2019 Briefing Paper No. 06152 the Government estimated that over 99.9% of the UK’s 5.9 million businesses are SMEs, it is perhaps unsurprising that it has committed to ensuring that, by 2022, at least £1 in every £3 government spends will be with smaller businesses. Published in 2019, its SME Action Plan sets out its programmes and initiatives aimed at achieving this.
It is worth recognising that this objective is just the latest stage in the Government’s determination to allocate public sector contracts to SMEs. In 2010 only 6.5% of government business was going directly to them. According to a National Audit Office report published in March 2016, the actual percentage going to SMEs had already risen to 27% by the year 2014-15. It is clear therefore, that the public sector tendering process is evolving and applications from smaller companies are welcomed.
The government provides further support for businesses seeking public sector opportunities through its Contracts Finder service and the Crown Commercial Service (CCS), which provide procurement services to the public sector. By using CCS agreements (which cover construction), buyers can order goods and services quickly and cost effectively whilst complying with EU and UK procurement regulations. The CCS has produced a useful guide, entitled 'Becoming a Supplier Through the Crown Commercial Service – what you need to know'.
The deliberate encouragement of SMEs to tender for public sector work is not just about ensuring a fairer distribution of contracts, but also because often SMEs can offer greater flexibility, easier and faster reactions, and/or greater choice (there are more of them) leading to competitive pricing.
Competitive pricing will, of course, remain a significant consideration, but public sector organisations (PSO) have a wide range of additional requirements when procuring products and services. These will often lead the PSO to consider other issues when awarding contracts and may favour the supplier who can demonstrate positive policies or practices in the following areas:
- Customer care/after sales
- Experience and abilities
- Staffing skills and skills development programmes
- Quality assurance
- Equal opportunities employment
- Environmental issues
- Health & safety
- Financial standing
- Geographical location and network of representatives
- Reaction speed
The suppliers’ attitude and established procedures in the above areas can make a significant difference to their chances of winning contracts, as the PSO will often make awards to those suppliers who help them meet their aims beyond the principal project, e.g. the PSO’s sustainability objectives or environmental policies and ambitions. So, in any tender application, it is well worth voluntarily including details of any recycling policy, environmentally friendly packaging, sustainable manufacturing processes, potential benefits to the local community/environment, etc. There are other areas which may enable the PSO to consider the suppliers' tender application favourably and which it may be useful to include in applications. For example, they may welcome the reassurance that may come from knowing that the supplier:
- Is a member of a trade association or scheme such as the ‘Considerate Constructors Scheme’
- Has won awards for excellence in its field
- Has adequate resources in terms of staff and finance
- Has up-to date knowledge and skills
- Gives guarantees
- Has its own environmental standards/packages
With regard to the contract value, as a rough guide, this should not generally exceed 25% of the supplier’s turnover, as this may be considered too high a risk to the PSO. If the contract value does exceed this ratio, the supplier will need to demonstrate how they will manage the risk. Where larger contracts are involved (£150,000+), the supplier is likely to need to provide 3 years audited accounts with P & L, balance sheets and bank references. Initially, smaller and newer suppliers may need to restrict their applications to lower value contracts or to undertake sub-contracting work (see below) to approved suppliers. Both routes will enable the supplier to become known and provide a reference point for future applications.
PSOs can have differing approaches to the procurement of services. Whilst they all conform to a regulated standard, the differences will often be in the individual working practices. Therefore, having identified the contract opportunity, it will be necessary to become familiar with the application process particular to the PSO. Guidance documents are generally available from the various local authorities’ websites or by application to the relevant contacts at other PSOs. It is worth bearing in mind that, if the contract is of low value, some organisations will not advertise it, so introducing your company and its services to the relevant procurement department can prove beneficial.
Naturally, many high-value contracts are awarded to large companies and/or companies with an established track record of supplying the public sector. Consequently, in order to take advantage of these, smaller or newer companies may wish to look at subcontracting to these larger companies. This will also assist them in creating a successful work history of supplying the public sector, which in turn will improve their position for later when they tender directly. Subcontractors can often identify the winners of large contracts via the OJEU* (see Where to Find Details of Contracts, below) or by contacting the public sector client organisation(s) directly.
A Guide to Tendering for Public Sector Contracts in Ireland and the UK published by Enterprise Ireland
Ways to Improve Bid Management - This article from Propeller Studios explains how to improve bid management, from implementing helpful software to team communication.
Sell Goods or Services to the Public Sector - online guide from the UK Government, includes links to procurement information for the devolved administrations of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
The Benefits of Bid Management Software – This article from Propeller Studios looks at the tools that can make bid management easier and faster to help firms win more work.
In 2018 Build UK and CECA announced their plans to establish a new Common Assessment Standard to improve efficiency and reduce cost in the construction pre-qualification (PQ) process. Updated information on progress can be found here. There is a number of pre-qualification services of which suppliers may wish to avail themselves. Generally, these services are contracted by PSOs to maintain a ‘vetted’ list of qualified suppliers in various fields to save them time and provide assurance when inviting tenders.
- The Contractors Health and Safety Assessment Scheme (CHAS)
This is established as the market leader for health and safety pre-qualification in the UK. It is a non-commercial scheme, available to suppliers (those who provide goods and services) and to organisations (buyers) looking for suitably competent suppliers.
This is the UK Government's national register for suppliers. In the same way as CHAS offers a tool for use in the health and safety element of pre-qualification, ConstructionLine provides the pre-qualification tool for use in financial standing, technical references and other areas. Its aim is to improve efficiencies for buyers and suppliers in the construction industry, specifically by reducing the duplication of work and administration relating to the process of pre-qualifying suppliers for construction contracts.
Over 8,000 buyers from 2,000 organisations throughout the UK already use the ConstructionLine database to source pre-qualified suppliers in the construction sector. They range from public sector bodies such as the NHS, local authorities, police and universities, to private sector businesses such as major contractors, small construction firms and consultants.
ConstructionLine is open to public and private sector organisations and endorsed by the Department of Business Innovation & Skills. The OGC Common Minimum Standards and the Local Government Task Force also recommend using ConstructionLine as part of the pre-qualification and tendering process.
Exor is a commercially operated company providing an outsourced supply chain service to Public and Private Sector Organisations. It pre-qualifies, or validates, suppliers to enable PSOs to easily select appropriate organisations.
Their publicity material states, “By meeting the widely recognised Exor standards suppliers are able to pre-qualify or fully qualify for business opportunities through either formal tendering process or commercial negotiations. Being assessed to the Exor standards means suppliers can reduce the repetition submitting qualification information and gain access to a wider range of business opportunities.”
Where to Find Details of Contracts
Our Sales Leads section includes details of 30 organisations providing project lead data and research (for both private and public sector contracts). Most of these will provide comprehensive data on each individual project, including participating architects, contractors, etc., as well as estimated contract values, start and completion dates. Although sometimes more limited in breadth, details of exclusively public sector projects are available from a variety of organisations including:
This is the government-backed resource established to open up lower value contracts to the market place. All public sector organisations are encouraged to publicise contracts on the site to provide the widest access to these tender opportunities. As part of the Public Contract Regulations, all Central Government procurement opportunities over £10,000 must now be advertised on the new Contracts Finder site. Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales have their own dedicated procurement websites.
In addition to the pre-qualification services mentioned above, members of Constructionline receive free alerts on construction projects.
- Supplement to the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU)
Most public sector contracts will be published in the Supplement. Details will include an overview of the project and requirements, and interested organisations are invited to express interest or, in some cases, tender directly.
(Please note, at the time of writing, Feb 2020, the UK is in a transition period as it exits the EU and the EU Public Procurement Directives and UK Public Procurement Regulations will continue to apply until 31 December 2020).
- Tenders Electronic Daily (TED)
TED is the online version of the Supplement to the OJEU.
Tracker provides comprehensive public sector contract information via its subscription-based online service.
Procurement Portals & Suppliers’ Resources
Many of the largest public sector organisations have dedicated procurement portals to help suppliers find out about the latest opportunities and link with relevant buyers, and there are other resources to help suppliers. Some of the major ones include:
Procurement portal for Police and Fire & Rescue Services
Used by over 300 public sector organisations
Construction procurement and delivery frameworks for major capital projects (over £4 million) in Wales
Procurement portal for the East Midlands
Procurement portal for health and social care construction in Scotland
Procurement portal for Kent
Procurement portal for 20 London local authorities
Procurement portal for North East Public Sector Organisations
Procurement portal for worldwide public sector groups, set up by the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS) in the UK and The Institute for Public Procurement (NIGP) in the USA
Procurement portal for the East Midlands
Procurement portal for Hertfordshire
Procurement portal for Leicestershire
Procurement portal for local authorities in Surrey
Procurement portal for District and Borough Councils in Hertfordshire
Procurement portal for local authorities in the South West
Portal for latest OJEU and lower value tenders
Procurement portal for North West local government
News alert channel for UK government and public sector senior management, with a supplier listing
Procurement portal for 24 local authorities in the Yorkshire & Humber Region
Media and Events
Our resources include over 330 construction industry journals and magazines. The following represents just a small selection (please log in to access the full database for editorial and sales contact information, circulation data, etc.):
Education, Design & Build
Housing Association Magazine
Health Estate Journal
Healthcare Design & Build
Housing Association Building & Maintenance
Local Government News
Public Sector Build
Public Sector Building
Public Sector Estates Management (incorporated into PSS Magazine)
School Building Magazine
Social Housebuilding and Maintenance
Exhibitions and Conferences
Our resources include a database of over 280 forthcoming UK construction industry exhibitions. The following represents just a small selection (you will need to log in using the links provided to access further information such as attendance data, exhibiting rates, etc.):
Healthcare Estates Conference and Exhibition
Education Estates Conference and Exhibition
Local Government Procurement Expo
Highways Management Conference and Exhibition
National Housing Federation Conference and Exhibition
Meet the Buyer Events
Meet the buyer forums often provide excellent opportunities for suppliers to meet buyers from both the public and private sectors. ConstructionLine operates events across the country with meetings available on an ad hoc basis (suppliers queue to have a brief discussion with each buyer), whereas there is a number of dedicated events for the construction sector, generally on a more formalised basis where the supplier is provided with a timed appointment (on average 10-15 minutes). Again, these events are held across the country by a number of organisers. Construct UK publicises these in our Events Calendar (choose the 'meet the buyer' filter).
It is also worth noting that public sector organisation also often hold their own meet the buyer events, along with training events to help suppliers access contract opportunities.