Beginners Guide To Bidding on Public Sector Tenders & Contracts

8 July 2024

Whether you are a small business owner, an independent consultant, or simply curious about government procurement, this guide will equip you with the essential knowledge and tools to participate in the bidding process confidently.

We will cover topics such as:

FAQs: Addressing common questions and concerns for first-time contractors.

Getting Started: How to find suitable opportunities that align with your business.

What to Know: Key concepts, terminology, and legal frameworks governing public procurement in the UK.

How to Prepare: Tips for crafting a winning bid, including best practices for proposal writing and evaluation criteria.

By the end of this guide, you will have a solid foundation in public sector procurement, enabling you to approach future tenders confidently.

Frequently Asked Questions for First-Time Bidders

Before we dive into the world of public sector tenders, here is a brief breakdown of the most frequently asked questions we receive to help you better understand the terminology used during the tendering process.

What is procurement?

  • Procurement is the process of acquiring goods, services, or works for government programmes or projects.

What is contracting?

  • Contracting is used to secure those goods, services, or works. The process can vary depending on the organisation, applicable regulations, and other factors.

What is an invitation to tender (ITT)?

  • An invitation to tender (ITT) formally invites suppliers and contractors to submit bids for public sector contracts. It outlines the organisation’s requirements, including the timeline, scope of work, and evaluation criteria.

What is a request for information (RFI)?

  • A request for information (RFI) is used to gather general information about potential suppliers and their capabilities. It does not typically include requests for pricing details.

What is a request for proposal (RFP)?

  • A request for proposal (RFP) is a detailed document outlining a project’s specific requirements. Suppliers are invited to submit comprehensive proposals, including pricing and technical details.

What is a request for quotation (RFQ)?

  • A request for quotation (RFQ) is used to obtain price quotes from potential suppliers for specific goods or services.

What is the response deadline?

  • The response deadline is the final date for submitting a bid or proposal. Submissions must be on time to be accepted.

Navigating the world of public sector procurement also requires a firm grasp of tendering and contracting meanings. Here is a brief breakdown of the key concepts:

  • Going Contracting: This refers to the broader process of seeking and securing contracts with public sector organisations. It involves identifying suitable opportunities, preparing bids, and fulfilling contractual obligations.
  • Bidding for a Tender/Contract: This is submitting a formal proposal in response to an invitation to tender (ITT) or request for proposal (RFP). Your bid, also known as a tender bid, outlines your solution, pricing, and value proposition.
  • Bids and Tenders: These terms are often used interchangeably and represent the formal proposals submitted by suppliers in response to a tender opportunity.
  • Tendering and Contracting Process: This encompasses the entire lifecycle, from identifying opportunities and preparing bids to contract negotiation, award, and execution.

Understanding these terms and the overarching tendering and contracting process is crucial for success in the public sector marketplace. Mastering these concepts and honing your bidding strategies can unlock a wealth of opportunities for your business.

Essential Considerations Before Bidding on Public Sector Contracts

Before embarking on the tendering process, it is crucial to assess your readiness and suitability for the specific contract:

  • Trading History: While not always mandatory, most buyers prefer suppliers with at least two years of trading history. This can be demonstrated through financial accounts or, in some cases, strong case studies for smaller contracts.
  • Economic Financial Standing: Your financial stability will be evaluated based on annual turnover, financial ratios, and insurance coverage. Ensure you meet the minimum requirements outlined in the tender documents.
  • Relevant Experience: Most tenders require evidence of past performance through case studies. These should demonstrate the successful delivery of similar contracts within the last three to five years.
  • Capacity to Fulfil: Carefully review the contract specification to confirm you meet all qualifications and accreditations. Additionally, assess your resources, including staff and logistical capabilities, to ensure you can realistically deliver the contract.

Addressing these considerations upfront can save valuable time and resources. Focusing your efforts on tenders that align with your strengths and capabilities increases your chances of success in the competitive public sector procurement landscape.

What is Going Out to Tender?

Going out to tender is the process a public sector organisation uses to invite bids from potential suppliers. It aims to ensure value for money and fair competition.

The Process:

  • Need Identification: The organisation defines its goods, services, or work requirements.
  • Tender Preparation: An Invitation to Tender (ITT) detailing the project scope, specifications, evaluation criteria, and terms is prepared.
  • Tender Advertisement: The ITT is advertised to attract potential suppliers.
  • Bid Evaluation: Received bids are assessed against the stated criteria.
  • Contract Award: The contract is awarded to the Most Economically Advantageous Tender (MEAT), considering price and quality.
  • Contract Management: The organisation oversees the contract, ensuring performance and compliance.

Following this structured approach, public sector procurement promotes transparency, fairness, and competition, benefiting all parties involved.

Understanding the Tendering Procedures for Public Sector Contracts

Public sector procurement typically follows one of two main tendering procedures:

  1. Open Tendering Procedure: This is the most straightforward process. A contracting authority publishes an Invitation to Tender (ITT), which is open to any interested supplier. Responses are evaluated, and the contract is awarded to the Most Economically Advantageous Tender (MEAT), considering both price and quality.
  2. Restricted Tendering Procedure: This two-stage process is often used for complex or high-value contracts.

Open tendering is a transparent procurement process in which all interested suppliers are invited to submit bids. Public sector organisations widely use it to create competition, ensure value for money, and promote fair contract access.

Central government departments, local authorities, NHS trusts, and other public bodies frequently use open tendering for various contracts, from small-scale supplies to major infrastructure projects. By actively participating in open tendering, businesses of all sizes can access public sector contracts, expand their client base, and contribute to delivering essential public services.

In the restricted tendering process, suppliers must first demonstrate their eligibility by completing a Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) or Selection Questionnaire (SQ). This assesses their financial stability, experience, technical capabilities, and regulatory compliance.

Successful suppliers are then invited to submit a detailed tender in response to the Invitation to Tender (ITT). This comprehensive tender details their proposed solution, pricing, and other relevant information. The contract is awarded to the Most Economically Advantageous Tender (MEAT), considering both price and quality.

Understanding these distinct stages allows potential suppliers to strategize effectively, ensuring they meet the initial requirements and craft a compelling tender that showcases their strengths and aligns with the contracting authority’s needs. This knowledge significantly improves their chances of securing public sector contracts.

How to Find a Contract

The bidding for contract process involves a few things. Firstly, the method you use to find contracts will depend on your budget, industry, and experience in tendering. If this is your first time, the process may seem overwhelming, but it becomes easier once you know where to look.

Here are some methods you can use:

  • Tender Alert Services: These services allow you to set up personalised email alerts for new opportunities in your industry. While usually paid, they can save you significant time and effort.
  • Official Databases: These databases can help find contracts outside the UK, such as in Europe.
  • National Portals: Each UK nation has its portal for local opportunities.

Using our public sector tenders service, you can set up email alerts for new tenders that match your criteria, saving you a lot of time and effort. You can also browse current opportunities by keyword, industry, or location. Our website provides detailed information on each contract, including the tender documents and deadlines.

Remember, finding the right tender is the first step. Reviewing the tender documents and understanding the requirements is crucial for submitting a successful bid.

Bidding for a Tender: Should You Bid?

Before deciding to bid, assess if the tender aligns with your business goals, capabilities, and resources. Consider factors like:

  • Eligibility: Do you meet the mandatory requirements outlined in the tender documents?
  • Capacity: Can you realistically deliver the contract within the specified timeframe and budget?
  • Expertise: Do you have the necessary skills and experience to meet the project’s requirements?
  • Competitive Advantage: What sets you apart from other bidders? Can you offer unique value or innovation?

How to Bid:

  • Thorough Research: Carefully review all tender documents, including specifications, evaluation criteria, as well as terms and conditions.
  • Question Clarification: If anything is unclear, seek clarification from the contracting authority before submitting your bid.
  • Tailored Response: Craft a compelling bid directly addressing the requirements, highlighting your strengths and value proposition.
  • Compliance: Ensure your bid meets all formatting, submission guidelines, and deadlines.

What to Know:

  • Evaluation Criteria: Understand how your bid will be assessed. This often includes price, quality, experience, and social value considerations.
  • Deadline: Submit your bid before the deadline, as late submissions are usually rejected.
  • Decision Process: The contracting authority will evaluate all bids and award the contract based on the most economically advantageous tender (MEAT).

By understanding the tendering process and preparing a comprehensive and competitive bid, you can increase your chances of securing lucrative contracts and growing your business.

Bids and Tenders – What to Include in your Proposals

Time is a critical factor in the tendering process. Not only are deadlines imminent, but inefficient use of time can be costly. To increase your chances of success, adopt a strategic approach:

  • Targeted Opportunity Sourcing: Focus on tenders that align with your business capabilities and growth objectives. This ensures efficient use of resources and increases your likelihood of winning. Our Contracts Finder tool can help you source the right opportunities for your business.
  • Storyboarding: Before writing, create a clear structure for each tender response. This helps you address all requirements concisely and effectively, maximising the impact of your bid.
  • Deadline Management: Thoroughly review the tender timetable and set internal deadlines to ensure timely submission. Plan ahead to avoid last-minute rushes.
  • Thorough Tender Analysis: After identifying a potential opportunity, carefully review all tender documents, including instructions, specifications, and evaluation criteria. This will reveal crucial information like contract value, length, key dates, scope of work, minimum turnover requirements, and other essential criteria.

Following these steps, you can optimise your tendering process, submit high-quality bids, and improve your chances of securing public sector contracts. Remember, a well-prepared and strategically executed tender is key to success in this competitive landscape.

What are RFP Tenders?

An RFP (Request for Proposal) tender is a comprehensive procurement document used by public and private sector organisations to solicit detailed proposals from potential suppliers. Unlike RFQs, which focus on price, RFPs delve deeper into the supplier’s proposed approach, methodology, and overall value proposition.

How to Find RFP Tenders:

  • Tender Alert Services: Subscribing to tender alert services such as Public Sector Tenders can notify you of relevant RFPs in your sector.
  • Networking: Building relationships with procurement professionals and industry contacts can provide valuable leads.

To win RFP tenders, start by thoroughly understanding the requirements outlined in the document. Your proposal should directly address the project’s specific needs and objectives, demonstrating your ability to meet or exceed expectations.

Craft a tailored approach that showcases your unique expertise and experience. Highlight your company’s strengths and how they align with the project’s goals. Emphasise the added value you bring to the table, differentiating yourself from competitors.

Present a compelling narrative that tells a clear and concise story about your understanding of the project and proposed solution. Demonstrate your ability to deliver successful outcomes by showcasing past successes and highlighting your team’s capabilities.

Back up your proposal with solid financials, providing a detailed and competitive pricing structure that aligns with the budget outlined in the RFP. Be transparent about your costs and demonstrate the value your solution offers for the price.

Finally, ensure your proposal meets all technical, legal, and regulatory requirements. Pay close attention to details and deadlines, as non-compliance can quickly disqualify your bid. By following these steps, you can increase your chances of success in the competitive world of RFP tenders.

Where to Submit RFP Tenders:

  • RFP submission methods vary depending on the organisation. Some may require online submissions through a dedicated portal, while others may accept email or physical copies. Always follow the instructions specified in the RFP to ensure your proposal is received and considered.


Embarking on the public sector tendering journey can be a rewarding path for UK businesses of all sizes. By understanding the process’s intricacies, conducting thorough research, and crafting compelling bids, you can unlock valuable growth opportunities and contribute to the delivery of vital public services.

Remember, the key to success lies in preparation, perseverance, and a commitment to continuous learning. As the procurement landscape evolves, staying informed about the latest regulations, best practices, and technological advancements will ensure your business remains competitive and adaptable.

By leveraging the knowledge and insights shared in this guide, you are well-equipped to navigate the complexities of public sector procurement and build a sustainable and prosperous future for your business.

Unlock UK government tender opportunities with Public Sector Tenders – your fast track to success!