Community Right to Challenge: Step 6

The procurement exercise

The timing

The relevant authority will now arrange a procurement exercise. The regulations on the Community Right to Challenge stipulate that the authority must carry out a procurement process if an expression of interest is accepted, so it is unlikely that the authority will be able to just negotiate with you directly.

Once the procurement process is formally announced, the authority must be very careful about what it does and does not discuss with you about the service, as it is bound by very tight rules about how the public sector chooses who to award contracts to, and the procedures that must be followed during this decision making process.

The authority may have allowed a time period between accepting your expression of interest and formally starting the process, for example in order to allow you to develop your skills and your business case further, but it may in this period be unable to enter into negotiations or discussions with you.

If there is time between your expression of interest being accepted and the procurement process starting it would probably be wise to use this to do any preparatory work towards your bid. You should be able to anticipate the questions that you will be asked as the process is normally very standardised and you can start to prepare your answers and generally continue to refine your business case.

The process

The exact process to be followed will depend on the policies of your own authority, but it is governed by national and European legislation which ensures a largely standard procedure wherever you are, and you should be able to find out through some local enquiries exactly what your authority’s processes for buying services are.

Normally there will be different procedures depending on the size of the contract to be awarded. The larger the contract, the more complex and rigorous the process is likely to be, whilst procurement processes for smaller more straightforward contracts can be more accessible.

Whatever the process is you can be expected to be asked questions about:

  • the skills, qualifications and experience of key individuals to deliver the service in question
  • your systems and procedures in relation to financial management and operations
  • quality marks and accreditations you have that demonstrate your competence for the contract
  • your track record in delivering similar work in the past
  • the outcomes you expect to achieve
  • the plans and methods you will adopt to deliver these outcomes
  • your price for delivering these services and outcomes.

For larger contracts you may find that the authority adopts a two stage approach to their process. A first stage may be shorter and may focus more on the technical competence of the bidders and less on the details of the plans and methods. This stage is often called the ‘Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ)’ and is used to filter out organisations who don’t really have the technical ability or systems to deliver the service in question, and then select the best of the rest to be asked to submit their full plans in a second stage.

This second stage is often called an ‘Invitation to Tender (ITT)’ and typically around 6-8 bidders may be invited to submit plans at this second stage.

At other times the process will be a single stage and anyone will be open to submit a full tender.

This stage of the Community Right to Challenge process is highly technical. The rules are very strict and specific, and it can be very easy to rule yourself out at this point by missing out on a very simple and seemingly minor point of procedure, such as not submitting your tender in a correctly marked envelope! You need to pay very careful attention to detail at this point and may want to have a number of people double-checking all that you do.

Responding to a procurement exercise in general is very complicated and full of jargon, and the guidance above really only starts to cover the basics. On this site there will soon be a separate and much fuller resource specific to the Community Right to Challenge which will help to guide people through the process, the jargon, and how to submit a good bid and avoid some common pitfalls.

You will also probably want to find an advisor to look over drafts of your submission, or even help you write them, particularly if you haven’t been through similar exercises in the past. But the starting point for you will be to find out your authority’s procedures, and go over them with a fine tooth comb so that you know exactly what will be needed and by when.

Smaller service example – running the local outdoor market

A month after the group which is interested in taking over their local market found that its challenge had been successful, they receive a request from the council for a formal quote for the delivery of the market for an initial two-year period. The letter indicates that they are seeking four competitive quotes, in line with its procurement policy for smaller contracts. The letter states that this process is allowable for contracts up to £40,000, and this therefore indicates the maximum amount the group can include in their quote over two years for council fee income.

They feel that in addition to the market income, this is sufficient, and having already worked up their plans well during previous steps, they have no problem in meeting the two week deadline for the delivery of a quote plus outline business plan. Their plan focuses strongly on their approach to quality of delivery, but they also stress their local credentials and explain the additional social benefits that would be delivered if they had the chance to run the market. They now await the final decision of the local authority in step 7.