Common Procurement Questions

Below is a list of frequently asked procurement questions. Click on the questions to be directed to the answers contained within the content on the Further Education Library of Procurement. Alongside them is a short answer for an overview of all the questions on this page.

What are the Procurement Thresholds?

A proposed tender will fall under the legislation if its estimated value (before the addition of VAT) is greater than the prescribed thresholds. The legislation provides guidance on how to estimate the value of the proposed tender. If after calculation, the value of the contract exceeds the appropriate threshold, it will fall within the scope of the legislation. The current Thresholds can be found in the Valuation of a Contract and Current Thresholds page.

How do we value a contract for the purpose of procurement Thresholds?

The method of calculation used depends upon the type of procurement to be undertaken:

  • Supplies
  • Services
  • Works

When determining the best procurement strategy aggregation should be considered with a view to maximising the institution's procurement power even where to do so would bring a proposed procurement within the remit of this legislation.

What are rules are we required to follow for Social and Other Specific Services?

The Public Contracts Regulations 2015 contain a specific set of rules (often referred to as ‘light touch regime rules’) for certain services that tend to be of lower interest to cross-border competition. Those service contracts include certain social, health and education services as well as outsourced catering for schools, defined by Common Procurement Vocabulary (CPV) codes. The list of services to which the light touch regime applies is set out in Schedule 3 of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015.

Is there a standard Pre-Qualification Questionnaire to be used in procurements above threshold or can we devise our own Pre-Qualification Questionnaires?

A "pre-qualification stage" means a stage in the procurement process during which the contracting authority assesses “the suitability of candidates to perform a contract for the purpose of reducing the number of candidates to a smaller number who are to proceed to a later stage in the process”.  The Public Contracts Regulations 2015 now call this stage the Selection Stage and there is a mandatory standard Selection Questionnaire that must be used by all contracting authorities.

A copy of the Standardised Questionnaireis available here.

What rules and regulations should I be aware of when managing an above threshold tender process?

What you need to know when the requirement is subject to the procurement regulations.  Including; when the rules apply, valuing a contract, CPV codes, advertising, timescales, specifications, evaluation and standstill periods.

How much information are you obliged to tell unsuccessful bidders?

You must provide, in writing, information detailing the reasons for rejection including the characteristics and relative advantages of the winning bid compared to theirs.  The scores awarded to the successful bidder must also be shared with unsuccessful bidders, alongside their own scores.

What should I do if a supplier challenges the award decision?

This guide provides colleges with a list of potential actions to consider when faced with a disgruntled bidder following communication of the award decision. It is worth noting that suppliers often threaten a challenge to the award when they are simply seeking clarity as to their own scores or the scores of the successful bidder that have been awarded. For a challenge to the award to be a formal challenge, it must be presented to the contracting authority by solicitors acting on behalf of the aggrieved supplier in the form of a letter that outlines the circumstances of the challenge.

If the supplier is making enquiries, you should seek to defend or resolve the complaint, keeping detailed records of discussions and actions. If there are grounds for the complaint it may be necessary to stop and re-run the competition. If grounds of complaint cannot be defended, stop the award process and seek your own legal advice.

How do I find out what framework agreements are available for me to use?

Generally speaking an institution should always look to source via a framework if available rather than completing their own tender. The institution should check that the framework covers all of their requirements and that it’s appropriate for the particular exercise. A procurement consortium is a collective of businesses or organisations that procure jointly in order to maximise their bargaining power and enjoy economies of scale.

To be eligible to use the framework, the procurement consortium will have listed all entities in their contract notice that will be eligible to utilise the framework. In the event that a framework does not include educational institutions as a listed entity, the framework should not be used without checking with the procurement consortium.

What is the mini-competition process and what are the benefits of running a mini competition under a framework agreement?

A mini competition is a simplified tender process that can be conducted on framework contracts. For this process a specification is produced and sent out to all suppliers on the identified framework. The framework agreement will usually have identified the award criteria to be used to evaluate suppliers bids along with the terms and conditions of contract. When running a mini competition there is no need to conduct a pre qualification stage to assess the suppliers financial and technical abilities as this will have already been completed by the framework owner.

Is it permissible to allow in-house bids as part of the procurement procedure?

It is not compulsory to expose internal services to competition, unless it is decided to do so on the principles of best value.  It is recommended that a full investigation into the practicalities of in-house provision is conducted before going out to tender and, if appropriate, discounted rather than to try to conduct an in-house bid alongside a tender process.

We have funding for building refurbishment works, are there frameworks that can assist in procuring design and build or just construction services?

There are frameworks that can assist in both procuring construction services as well as procuring design and build services.

Do we have to advertise contracts above £25,000 on Contracts Finder?

For contract opportunities above £25,000 to the relevant PCR Threshold, the requirement for contracting authorities** to publish a Contract Notice on Contracts Finder applies where a contracting authority advertises an opportunity.  Where a contracting authority is satisfied it is lawful not to advertise an opportunity (see Advertising requirements for below threshold procurements for further information) and chooses not to advertise the opportunity at all, the requirement to advertise on Contracts Finder does not apply to that contract. As at March 2022, Schools, academies and sixth form colleges are exempt from the Contracts Finder publication requirements, as are contracting authorities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Is there any guidance on standard terms and conditions?

A set of standard terms and conditions that can be adopted and tailored for colleges use in the purchase of goods and services.

Are there example specifications available that I can use as a starting point for drafting my own specification for goods and services?

There is information about available contracts/framework agreements for common goods and services used within the education sector and outline product specifications and tender documentation where frameworks are not to be used. For ease of use,  documents have been allocated to one of 20 generic commodity areas.

Is it permissible to add additional goods or services to an existing contract?

The Public Contracts Regulations 2015 provide clarity about the extent to which a contract can be amended after award without the need to re-advertise on Find a Tender Service.

Does the purchase of gas and electricity supply fall under the scope of the procurement regulations?

Yes, the purchase of electricity or gas would be a supply contract and if the thresholds were breached then the procurement regulations would apply to that purchase. There are CPV codes associated with the supply of electricity and gas or alternatively there is a CPV code for energy and related services.

What is considered the ‘best’ way to purchase gas and electricity?

The most economically advantageous tender (MEAT) criterion enables the contracting authority to take account of criteria that reflect qualitative, technical and sustainable aspects of the tender submission as well as price when reaching an award decision.

Any criteria used must be linked to the subject-matter of the contract in question.  The Regulations state that award criteria shall be considered to be linked to the subject matter of the contract where they relate to the works, supplies or services to be provided under that contract in any respect and at any stage of their life-cycle, including factors involved in:

  1. the specific process of production, provision or trading of those works, supplies or services; or
  2. a specific process for another stage of their lifecycle,

even where those factors do not form part of their material substance.

As early as possible in the process, preferably when the requirement is advertised on the Find a Tender Service, the criteria will be published and advised to the potential tenderers.

The relative weighting of each criterion used to assess the submissions must be stated or, where this is not possible for objective reasons, they should be stated in descending order of importance.

Quite often the award criteria stated in the contract notice and/or the tender documentation will be made up of a number of sub-criteria.  These sub-criteria and their weightings should also be notified to the tenderers - the sub-criteria detail could probably be provided within the tender documentation rather than in the contract notice.

The legislation lists the following criteria (although this list is not exhaustive):

  • quality
  • price or cost using a cost-effectiveness approach
  • technical merit
  • aesthetic and functional characteristics
  • accessibility
  • social characteristics
  • environmental characteristics
  • innovative characteristics
  • after-sales service and technical assistance
  • delivery conditions such as date, process and period

It is also permissible for the cost element to take the form of a fixed price or cost on the basis of which tenderers will compete on quality criteria only.

Award criteria most not have the effect of conferring an unrestricted freedom of choice on the contracting authority.

When including sustainability-based criteria it is important to remember these criteria must be 'linked to the subject matter of the contract' and be proportionate for the contract.

The contract notice must indicate that the MEAT criterion will be used to award the contract.  The details of the individual award criteria should be stated in the contract notice and must be stated in the contract documentation.

Once stated, the criteria must be applied as stated and cannot be changed at a later date, particularly not after the tender return deadline.

Can we include conditions in our contracts relating to the provision of apprenticeships?

Document: Increasing the number of Apprenticeship places is a core objective of Department for Education (DfE).  The definition of VFM has changed, now including delivering wider government objectives and policies. A better trained workforce with reduced turnover should also deliver improvements in contract delivery.

This document provides an example of a contract performance condition that could be used to require the Contractor to support the delivery of Apprenticeships on your contract. In contracts that are subject to The Public Contracts Regulations 2015, to avoid breaching the Regulations, Contractors should not be assessed on their ability to meet this condition only that they accept the terms and conditions of the contract.