Tendering for outsourced services

Many schools and academies outsource services such as cleaning, catering and ICT support. Here are five key areas to consider when starting a tendering exercise for an outsourced service

Should you be thinking about outsourcing an in-house service or have a service which is outsourced and the contract end date is fast approaching, this article by CPL Group is for you.

There are many aspects to consider when tendering or retendering a service to ensure you get the right service provider. Here are five key areas to consider when starting a tendering exercise for an outsourced service with supporting hints and tips.


There are plenty of suppliers in the outsourced services marketplace but to get the best results you need to gain maximum interest in your contract. Make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to prepare and ideally plan to start the tender process at least nine months before your contract is due to expire. Prepare and develop your specifications for your Invitation to Tender (ITT) well in advance of the ITT issue date.  The time taken to involve all stakeholders in the drafting of the specification will pay dividends in how well the contract performs and meets your institution’s expectations.  

Consider warming up the marketplace by talking to potential suppliers in advance of issuing your ITT to let them know the opportunity may be coming their way.  Make sure you allow sufficient time between issuing your ITT and the tender deadline because the most common feedback from suppliers is that they are not given enough time to return a quality tender proposal.  

Route to market

All public sector organisations including schools and academies are bound by the Public Contracts Regulations (PCR). These regulations set out a series of rules that institutions must follow when purchasing using public money.  The PCR apply to purchases over certain financial thresholds and currently for service contracts it is £189,330 over the contract duration.  The PCR allow you to spend above the threshold when you either buy via a framework agreement or conduct your own procurement exercise advertised on the UK Find a Tender Service .and in compliance with the PCR rules.

Your institution may find it feasible to run your own tender in compliance with the PCR if you have in-house procurement capability but it takes a significant amount of time and expertise to complete.  This is where a framework agreement (also known as a deal) comes in. A framework which has been set up in compliance with the PCR ensures your purchase is compliant and quick as the process is much shorter than running your own tender plus giving the added value of having  little or no expense.

Should you choose to use a framework agreement or not, when tendering complex outsourced service contracts, you may decide to appoint a specialist procurement consultant to run the process on your behalf. Make sure you select one with knowledge of the PCR, the service in question and the education sector.

Consider the right time to go to market

Try to avoid the “silly season” between March and June as most educational institutions will go out to tender at this time to seek a summer contract start date for outsourced services.  This puts pressure on the marketplace and can reduce the number of suppliers who bid for your contract. Should you go out to tender during this busy season it’s important to ensure you have allowed sufficient time between issuing the tender and the tender deadline.  We advise a six week tender period for complex outsourced service contracts, especially if your bidders need to visit your institution to assist with their understanding of site operations.

Tender documents

Your ITT is your ‘shop window’ so make the content as attractive as possible to encourage interest from suppliers. A poor tender will give the message that the buyer isn’t engaged or lacks knowledge. Contractors are attracted to enthusiastic customers!  

Provide information within your ITT that will entice the contractor to bid.  Examples to consider include your aims and objectives – what would you consider to be a successful appointment?  Make sure instructions on how to bid and what to include in the bid are clear and well defined for the bidder and avoid mixing instructions to bidders in with the detail of the service specification.  Aim to make it easy for bidders to identify the information you want and the required format as this will increase the quality of the bids you receive.  

Service contracts will often involve the transfer of employees from one contractor to another under the Transfer of Undertaking (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE).  Facilitating the provision of TUPE information within your tender documents will result in a smoother implementation of the contract and ensure there are no amendments to the contract price later in the tender process.  
Tender evaluation

Score bids exactly how you say you will in your ITT, be transparent and ensure your tender evaluation criteria complies with the necessary public sector procurement regulations.  Bidders have very good memories and have the right to challenge you on the award of a contract if they believe you have breached public sector procurement regulations.  

Ensure that your feedback relates to the award criteria only and detail the reasons for their lower score when debriefing unsuccessful suppliers.  Conduct debriefing in writing rather than face to face.  

Finally, once you have selected the winning supplier, do make sure that all points of clarification and any contractual issues are dealt with before you sign the contract.

CPL Group

CPC and Tenet Education Services are not-for-profit organisations which are part of CPL Group, an education owned charity that gives back to the sector through funding and support. CPC provides framework agreements designed for education including for outsourced cleaning and catering services. CPC membership is free of charge to all institutions. Tenet provides procurement consultancy support and are experts in cleaning and catering outsourcing.

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