Doing business with us – a guide

This guide has been produced to assist suppliers and contractors who wish to supply the Council.

About this guide

How will the guide help you?

  • It outlines the rules that the Council must follow
  • It alerts companies as to how they can access opportunities to supply the Council
  • It explains how to respond to contract opportunities.
  • It outlines why the Council has made a policy decision to do business electronically

Devon County Council encourages competition and welcomes bids from new and established suppliers.

Contracts are usually awarded on a most economical advantageous tender basis. Whilst we will not discriminate in favour of locality, it is committed to supporting and encouraging local firms to compete for contracts.

What are the benefits of working with the Council?

We are:

  • fair
  • non-discriminatory
  • professional
  • a long established organisation
  • guaranteed and quick payers (within 20 days).

If any supplier is interested in pursuing business opportunities with the Council, they should visit www.supplyingthesouthwest.org.uk where they can register against contract categories that align with their business. When a contract opportunity arises within a category they have indicated, they will receive an alert and can then decide whether or not they wish to register an expression of interest against that specific opportunity and enter into the tender process.

All of our tendering opportunities are advertised on the Supplying the South West Portal.

Please Note: Devon Procurement Services prefers not to receive unsolicited mail shots. If company or product literature is required it will be formally requested. Please think environmentally friendly and only submit literature when it is asked for.

Overview of our procurement

We serve 740,800 people across the county and cover 2,589 square miles, and are the largest authority in the South West.

The Council procures goods, services and works from a diverse enterprise community.  Our requirements range from low value, high volume commodities such as stationery and office supplies to high value, critical and complex works and services such as IT solutions, school buildings, waste management provisions and social care services.

As a public sector organisation, the way in which we procure goods and services is governed by both internal regulations and national and European legislation.

The Council spends approximately £460m per annum excluding direct employee costs.  The Council also has a Capital Budget which varies each year according to the resources available.

The Council is a member of the Devon Procurement Partnership (DPP) and acts as one of the lead authorities along with Plymouth City Council and Torbay Council.  The Partnership consists of 19 permanent member organisations.  The other members of Devon Procurement Partnership are:-

  • Dartmoor National Park
  • Devon & Cornwall Constabulary
  • Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue
  • East Devon District Council
  • Exeter City Council
  • Exeter College
  • Land Registry (Plymouth)
  • Met Office
  • Mid Devon District Council
  • North Devon District Council
  • Petroc (formerly North Devon College)
  • Plymouth City Council
  • South Hams District Council
  • South West Water
  • Teignbridge District Council
  • Torbay Council
  • Torridge District Council
  • University of Exeter
  • West Devon District Council

The Importance of effective procurement

Effective procurement supports the Council’s aims and objectives helping the Council to deliver high-quality services which meet the current and future needs of local people and provides value for money.

Sometimes the Council will create or join in with a partnership contract that all of the Devon Procurement Partnership authorities are able to call-off from and on other occasions it will procure only for itself.  A strategic decision is taken in each instance, dependent on the circumstances and requirements.

Opportunities to supply the Council

All of our services are delivered through five directorates:

  • Adult and Community Services
  • Chief Executives
  • Children and Young People’s Services
  • Corporate Resources
  • Environment, Economy and Culture

Each of the Directorates has a representative on the Procurement Policy Group of Devon County Council so that corporate and consistent procurement processes and systems are used across the authority.

What do we procure?

The Council requires a wide range of goods, services and works in order to function and to deliver services to the Devon community. The following is a selection of some of our categories of needs:

  • advertising
  • AVA equipment/consumables
  • buildings
  • catering
  • cleaning
  • communication systems
  • computers
  • consultancy
  • early years aids and equipment
  • food
  • furniture
  • grounds maintenance
  • information technology
  • legal services
  • office equipment
  • office supplies
  • printing
  • property services
  • school services
  • security systems and service
  • site management
  • site services and equipment
  • social care
  • soft furnishings
  • software
  • special needs equipment
  • stationery
  • telecoms
  • travel and accomodation
  • utilities
  • vehicles (purchase and hire)
  • waste management
  • white goods

How to find out about supplier opportunities (adverts and information)

Devon Procurement Portal

For information about forthcoming tender opportunities with Devon County Council, the easiest way to be kept up to date is through our Procurement Portal.

Join Devon’s E-tendering Portal on the Suppliers Area on the Devon Procurement e-tendering portal and register your company against the contract categories aligned with your business.

Use of the Devon Procurement Portal is free of charge to suppliers and user guides are available in the Suppliers Area section.

Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU)

It is a legal requirement for Devon County Council and other public sector bodies to advertise contract opportunities in certain categories, and above certain financial thresholds, within the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU).  However, it can be time-consuming for suppliers to constantly scour the online journal (OJEU) to find out if opportunities exist, therefore all Devon contracts are also advertised on the Devon Procurement Portal (as above) which provides a one-stop shop for finding opportunities, registering for opportunities and carrying out an electronic tender process.

OJEU thresholds currently stand at:

  • goods and services contracts over £139,893
  • works (construction) contracts over £3,497,313

If you want to view contract opportunities through OJEU these can be viewed at http://ted.europa.eu/

Contracts may also, from time to time, be advertised in the local press or specific trade publications as appropriate.

Applying for contract opportunities

The contract notice or advertisement will invite suppliers to submit an expression of interest for a contract.  The advertisement will detail the procedure to be followed and what information is required from you, the supplier. It is essential that suppliers provide all of the requested information (you will lose scores where there are gaps in your information).

It is crucial that where a tender closing date and time is set that suppliers leave plenty of time to submit their bids.  Leaving it until 11.50 when there is a 12 noon cut-off threshold is fraught with danger.  Suppliers are advised to allow tolerance in their timescales to be able to cope with any unforeseen hiccups such as their computer running slowly, a power cut etc. as tenders received after the due date and time will be rejected by the Council for probity purposes.

In such cases where a supplier’s bid is rejected on the grounds they were late submitting their tender, the supplier will have wasted their organisation’s time and resources without securing the opportunity of competing to win the business. It cannot be stressed enough that tender submissions should not be left to the last minute. Ideally, submit them the day before the deadline date.

The Council applies the principle of “proportionality” to its tender exercises which means that the level of testing of suppliers’ commercial and technical capability and compliance increases with the value and risk in the procurement. Generally, the areas of testing are divided between those matters “commercial” and those that are “technical”.

Commercial information

In general, the information requested under the commercial banner is about the organisation itself rather than the product or service in question.  The Council needs to verify that the supplier can be identified as a legitimate discrete trading organisation (address of office, registration number and company group information), that it has acceptable levels of economic and financial standing and that it promotes good practices in areas of equal opportunities, environmental protection and health and safety, for instance.
The areas assessed may include:

Financial information

Suppliers may be asked for certain financial information.  Private limited companies and public limited companies may be requested to submit fully audited accounts as registered with Companies House and sometimes references are taken from credit checking agencies.  Other applicants may be requested to forward copies of financial statements, business plans or a certified statement of turnover. This information is used to assess the financial position of the supplier in relation to the size of the contract.  Information is also required to check that a supplier is registered (if appropriate) for tax and complies with the Council’s insurance requirements.  In high-risk contracts where non-performance could result in significant financial loss or where operational performance is crucial, suppliers may be required to submit a Parent Company Guarantee or a Performance Bond

Experience, technical ability and capacity

The Council will also assess whether a supplier has the relevant experience, technical ability and capacity to carry out the categories of work or to provide the type and quality of service required.  If an application relates to a specific contract, it will be necessary to provide references.  Visits to reference sites may also be required.  Further questions may be asked tailored to the needs of the individual contract and the responses and supporting evidence will be used to assess whether a supplier has the required level of skills and abilities to fulfil the contract.

Health and safety

Depending upon the nature of the goods/service/works, suppliers may be required to submit their Health and Safety Policy.  Subject to compliance with European Procurement Rules and Regulations other information may also be requested from suppliers such as:

Equal opportunities

The Council strongly supports equal opportunity, equal access and positive outcomes for all sections of the community. The Council aims to ensure that suppliers that provide services on behalf of the Council comply with equal opportunities legislation and promote equality of opportunity.  It also aims to encourage those organisations and individuals with which it does business to observe and adhere to the principles contained within the Council’s Equal Opportunities Policy.  Questions may be asked about how equality issues are included in a suppliers employment practices. Copies of the Council’s policies can be obtained by e-mail to procure@devon.gov.uk.

Sustainability: Social, environmental and economic sensitivity

Devon County Council is committed to protecting the environment and ensuring a better quality of life for everyone now and for future generations.  The Council expects its suppliers to commit to working with the Council to reduce adverse impact on the environment in service delivery and particularly to assist with the Council’s aspirations to become a low carbon authority.

Quality assurance

For certain contracts including works contracts, suppliers may be required to demonstrate that they have a suitable quality assurance system in place. This may be demonstrated by certification by an approved assessment company or by our review and acceptance of the organisations quality manual.

Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) Disclosure

When a supplier is to perform works in a location where there are vulnerable people involved eg. schools, homes for the elderly; they may be required to provide evidence of Criminal Record Bureau disclosures for all personnel who would be employed within these areas.  This forms part of the Council’s risk management strategy and without this information a supplier will not be allowed to carry out works where vulnerable people are present.

The above outlines some of the more regularly requested evidence but suppliers may well be asked any numbers of other questions which relate to the particular procurement exercise being undertaken.

Tendering - The process

Tendering for contracts

Suppliers will either be invited to tender (where an open tendering procedure is being followed) or be sent a pre-qualification questionnaire where a two stage process is adopted.

Pre-qualification questionnaire

The purpose of a pre-qualification questionnaire is to assess the potential bidder’s suitability to supply the Council and ability to satisfy the contract before tenders are issued. It saves time and effort being unnecessarily spent on completing tenders by a bidder.

Tender evaluation and contract award

Returned tenders will be evaluated against the pre-determined criteria as specified in the tender documentation. Evaluation will focus on examining how the proposals will deliver the service (quality) and the cost of the service (price).  The balance between quality and price will depend on the particular service area. The Council will award the contract on the basis of the most economically advantageous tender.

Debriefing

Within the limits of commercial confidentiality, the Council will always provide unsuccessful tenderer’s feedback upon their request to find out why their bid has failed. This information can be used to help with any future bids as being unsuccessful in one contract does not mean that a company will be unsuccessful in future.

Contract performance

Devon County Council has to monitor its performance as part of its duty under Best Value, and suppliers and contractors to the Council are monitored to assess their compliance with pre-defined performance criteria. Contracts have to be performed in accordance with the requirements set out in the contract documentation. Contract conditions will be strictly applied. The Council is continuously striving to improve its own performance and it expects its contractors to do the same.

Small and medium enterprises

The Council is committed to supporting and encouraging smaller and south west based organisations to compete for business and to improve their ability to meet the Council’s requirements whilst complying with the requirements of EU Regulations, Standing Orders and best practice guidance.

In order to aid under-represented organisations the Council aims to:

  • publicise contract opportunities in one place consistently (Procurement Portal)
  • keep tender documents simple to understand and jargon free
  • set realistic timetables
  • encourage suppliers to adopt supply chain management practices that fit with how DCC does business
  • encourage suppliers to adopt e-commerce systems that streamline processes, reduce administration time and enable the council to make payment to suppliers more speedily.

The benefits of doing ebusiness with the council

The Council has a commitment to Implementing Electronic Government which aims to increase levels of electronic business which includes electronic tendering, ordering and invoicing. The aim is to improve efficiency and reduce the costs associated with the procurement process, for both the Council and the supplier. It is recognised that e-commerce can help suppliers by opening up products and services to a wider market. The Council will seek to work with suppliers which can help deliver its e-Commerce strategy.

How we did business traditionally in the past …

  • A Council Officer needs to buy something from a supplier. They contact them or check their catalogue for a price, or invite quotes or tenders and assess them.  When they have evaluated and selected the best value product they type the details on to a requisition and send it to their next in line to authorise.
  • The Authoriser checks budget and authorises order. Buyer types out the order, prints and posts it to the supplier. Supplier receives order, types details into their accounts system, and sends acknowledgement to the buyer.
  • Buyer receives goods and the supplier creates and sends a paper invoice.
  • Buyer authorises invoice and sends to accounts for payment.
  • Accounts enter the details into their financial system.
  • Supplier produces a statement and post to buyer; buyer receives statement, sends to accounts.
  • Accounts arrange for suppliers to be paid by BACS.  Both parties reconcile bank statements and accounting entries.

… now and for the future?

  • A Council Officer needs to buy something from a supplier; they ‘log in’ over an internet connection to Devon eBiz, look at the supplier’s web catalogue, click on the desired products/services and send the order electronically.
  • Supplier receives the order electronically and supplies the goods, the invoice is automatically electronically sent back to the buyer directly into their financial system and payment is made by BACS.

Fewer steps in the process

  • No papers
  • No errors
  • No delays
  • No chasing for payment

Electronic trading – getting started

The first step is to ensure that you have internet access and email in your organisation and that you have a dedicated address for receiving electronic orders. Many companies use individuals’ email addresses, but this can lead to chaos when an employee is sick or on holiday. Someone needs to check these emails regularly.

These emails can be treated as standard paper orders and keyed into accounting systems in exactly the same way as any order received through the post. This ensures that your company can trade electronically with any client.

The next level is to set up a website which allows you to take orders and payments for goods, and accept purchase orders and create electronic invoices if you sell services. There are inexpensive web tools available which will allow you to do all this without having to become a web expert!

If you wish to accept credit cards for payment you will also need to have an electronic merchant account – your bank will be able to help you with this. This will need to be integrated with your website, again this is commonly done and there is lots of help around to get you up and trading.

The final level is to integrate this with your accounting system in order to cut out any duplication of effort and re-keying of information. Many of the most popular accounting packages can be easily integrated with your web information and your accounting package provider will be able to give you practical guidance.

A supplier’s guide to trading electronically with the Council is available from procure@devon.gov.uk

Local government transparency code 2015

The Local Government Transparency Code 2015 is a tool to embed transparency in local authorities and sets out the minimum data that local authorities should be publishing, the frequency it should be published and how it should be published. All this information can be found under “contracts register.” on our Supplying the South West procurement portal. The contract register enables you to search by Authority, Sub Region, Category and End Date on current contracts that have been awarded via Devon County Council. All the information available is live data and these lists can be exported into excel.

Achieving equality through commissioning and procurement

At Devon County Council we want Devon to be a county for everyone. We are committed to tackling discrimination and exclusion, promoting social justice and good community relations and ensuring fair access for all. We are committed to ensuring equality within employment and the delivery of all services. Use the link to view our document in full for our equality standards in procurement.