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Friday, 26 June 2009

Friday Guest Blog: Tender is the fright...confessions of a serial pitcher

by Alan Salter, Editor and Managing Director, Transport Matters

I thought I would be a bit richer by now. Not necessarily a private jet but perhaps a Mercedes or two.

But all is not lost. After almost two years as an entrepreneur, I am enrolling for the Chamber’s “Exciting business opportunities for SME's in the public sector” seminar. So this time next year, I’ll be a millionaire.

In a former life, I was once approached by a foreign transport company bidding for a public contract in Greater Manchester. They thought that a rival was being unfairly favoured and after an investigation, I agreed.
Sadly, my superiors dithered and while the article mouldered in the “pending” tray, the foreign company gave up, obviously doubting our courage, and dropped their complaints. The story was eventually used on the business pages but by then, it was seriously devalued.

I should have been warned by that episode of the misery which lay ahead. That same company told me it had spent 10 YEARS pitching for large project in South America, only to lose it.
Fast forward, and here I am tendering for my own company...and what a nightmare. Over the last two years, I have probably wasted as much time on preparing pqq’s and tenders as actually doing any useful work.

I have forked out for £5m of employee liability insurance, even though my only employees below board level are two Jack Russell dogs. And one of those has adopted a consultant’s role, lying around on the bed all day waiting to alert me to the arrival of the mail. I would sack him but for my Equality and Diversity Policy.

I have £10m of public liability insurance – and a Health and Safety Policy to avoid ever having to draw on it. Rochdale Council insists I recycle all my household waste. Does that count as an Environmental Management Policy? I’m good at what I do but apparently I need a Quality Assurance Certificate to prove it.
The blurb for my Chamber course speaks of “difficulties in identifying contracts and overly bureaucratic tendering processes” which have put off many small businesses from “getting a slice of this lucrative market”.

Well, I’ve identified the contracts but that is only half the battle. Consider this latest email exchange with a public body with which I have had a long association:

THEM: Dear All, We have now completed the evaluation of the PQQ submissions which we received. Unfortunately, I have to inform you that your submissions have not passed the evaluation process with sufficiently high a score to be able to be passed to the ITT stage.I would like to thank you for the effort which went into the submissions and for providing us with the opportunity to review them. Regards, XXXXXXProcurement Category Manager

ME: Is there to be any feedback?

THEM: Alan, My apologies - on looking for your scores I now realise that although we have a record of issuing a PQQ to yourselves, we did not receive a submission. Please ignore my earlier e-mail. Regards, XXXXX

I am considering my position on that one. I’ve found the completed pqq on my laptop. It was submitted EIGHT months ago. There is little chance of proving that they lost it as all I did was put it in the post. I guess hand delivery is the way forward...though it’s difficult when you are reaching out to the north of Scotland one minute and Cornwall the next.

Then there are the stupid things you do – like spend most of a holiday finishing of the forms for one tender and then taking the word of the woman in Smiths that the envelope you buy is not a “large” and only needs an ordinary first class stamp. Only when we got home – after the closing date - did I check it against the GPO template and discovered that it was, in fact, a “large” and is probably still waiting in a post office in Middlesbrough awaiting the excess payment.

Still, it’s marginally better than applying for jobs. I have a growing blacklist of large public organisations – including Manchester and Salford councils and Salford University - who don’t even bother replying. And my seminar will, I am sure, help me get over the Catch 22 of public organisations demanding a huge turnover before handing out a contract.

And then, who knows, this time next year....
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