Webinar 3: Supplying to local government

This is the third webinar in a series supporting the Social Procurement Capability Program. In the third webinar we:

  • explore what is on the horizon for local government social procurement
  • provide an overview of where to find local government procurement opportunities
  • discuss some of the common challenges in winning government contracts and sharing a few tips to overcome these.

In the webinar we are joined by four guest panellists:

Richard Warner, the Coordinator at Nundah Community Enterprises Cooperative and the President of the Queensland Social Enterprise Council. Besides coordinating an award-winning Brisbane-based Social Enterprise, Richard has led several social enterprise sector development project over the last few years. Most recently, Richard was a speaker at the Social Enterprise World Forum and currently delivers the Community Enterprise Initiative to support community enterprise development across Toowoomba, Moreton & Sunshine Coast.

Tracey Scanlan, CEO of Ability Enterprises. Ability Enterprises is a not-for-profit, social enterprise providing meaningful employment opportunities to marginalised individuals living in regional Queensland.

And from Local Buy, Glen Duff, Director Next Gen Procurement & Partnerships and Ebony Setefano, Contract Administration Lead. Local Buy is one of the key platforms that Queensland local governments use to procure their services. Local Buy offers a range of services including streamlining procurement processes, providing extensive pre-approved supplier lists and providing ongoing support including probity.

Key advice

What are some of the current trends in local government procurement?

“On council procurement, we are really on the cusp of an exciting time in social procurement in councils and local government areas in Queensland. We of course have got really Brisbane City Council was one of the leading lights and one of the early adopters of social procurement in Australia they have got a strong track record systems to learn from”.

“And then we have this amazing stimulus in the sector through the social enterprise state government strategy, which has led to funding of QSEC …”

“There is a lot of organisations including the organisation I work for, a co-op doing regional development projects, it is an exciting time as activators are in each region through QSEC and we're just off the back of the world forum so a lot of energy came out of that exciting event. It is a really good time to be looking at this within local council.”

Richard Warner, Nundah Community Enterprises Cooperative

“…. there is a real movement happening at the moment to mature procurement in the sector. Varying degrees of maturity, but mature procurement and social is a major part of that.”

“So this is the opportunity for social enterprises to really start sort of talking about what they can do and what scale they can deliver on, because if that is not getting across to the people on the ground in councils, that can advocate, and they can make decisions around social, then it is going to be a slower take-up. So, really, the advice would be to make sure that councils, that you are wanting to make with -- wanting to work with, are aware with of what your capability and capacity is.  

“Councils are looking at maybe how they can engage with social enterprises, but not directly. So, if they are large bodies of work which might go to primary contractors, then you know, writing in some conditions around those contract, that those contractors need to engage with social enterprises.”

Glen Duff, Local Buy

What is on the horizon for local government social procurement?

“What is on the horizon is there is a growing awareness in regional councils, particularly we are seeing that in the Sunshine Coast, Ipswich, Moreton, and in areas of far North Queensland there is a bit of interest, in Port Douglas, Livingston Council, councils are starting to put social procurement into their forward planning. So, there is engagement around it.”

Richard Warner, Nundah Community Enterprises Cooperative

“We are seeing a lot of activity in councils that are really starting to put a lot of emphasis in how they can improve their social supplier engagement. What you can probably see over the next 10 years or so, but it is happening now, but over the next 10 years is this huge movement to grow social procurement”.

“Councils are also looking, and there is a big movement in this as well, around their social procurement policies. You know, reference around Brisbane City Council and those other councils previously, they have already gone down that journey, but there is more and more councils now that are considering putting social within their procurement policy.”

Glen Duff, Local Buy

Where can you find local government procurement opportunities?

You can research and find local government contract opportunities in a range of ways including:

  1. Register on VendorPanel (for quotes and tenders)
  2. Visit the VendorPanel Public Tenders page
  3. Some councils may still release public tenders on other sites. It’s important for you to - visit council websites and attend council supplier forums.
  4. Engage with primary contractors
  5. Pre-qualify on Local Buy Arrangements

It is important to consider that under local government regulations, councils can request quotes from perspective suppliers for medium sized contract arrangements (which is typically between $15,000 and $200,000 for the financial year, exclusive of GST). This means there are a lot of opportunities that do not require social enterprises to write a full tender and proposal. These opportunities may not be advertised and councils may have their own preferred supplier lists. So it is important to engage directly with councils so you can build relationships and find out their procurement processes.  

If you're not sure where to start, it is best to look on the council website, or you can call to ask for a contact in the procurement team. We also encourage you to attend local council networking events. You could reach out to relevant areas of council to understand their needs and talk to them about what you can offer.

What is ‘Local Buy’ and how can it help me identify and apply for local government procurement?

“One of the preferred ways that a lot of councils go out to the market is through Local Buy. We are part of the local government Association of Queensland, set up for a common purpose and we are written into the local government Act and local government regulation as an exception to allow councils to streamline their procurement and go out to quote through Local Buy arrangements”.

“A few of the real benefits there - they are used by most Queensland councils and hundreds of other organisations, so if you do get prequalified and apply to be prequalified on a Local Buy arrangement, then you will be visible in a prequalified supplier market to hundreds of organisations, including all 77 Queensland councils”.

“That ultimately saves a few things, they don't have to set up their own contracts, you don't have to respond to 20 different council contract requests, so it is good for the buyer. And it is good for the supplier as well. Essentially, when you tender and are appointed, you respond once and you are available to hundreds of organisations”.

“For the suppliers as well … significant amount of benefit, lower costs of doing business, you tender once, supply too many. You are appointed for up to 9 years now so that is great, you can tender once and are appointed up to 9 years, so you can see the sort of, what we are trying to achieve is reducing the red tape and making it easier to connect buyers and suppliers in Queensland Council. You get a supplier verification statement and really the ability to showcase both your capability and your social identity to all Queensland buyers”.

Glen Duff, Local Buy

What are some ways social enterprises can improve their chances of winning local government contracts?

“So, getting in on the ground floor, that is another way to get in the space, and a $199,000 or under $200,000 contract is a significant contract for a social enterprise. There is a lot of opportunities in that space that you can get into which are a good step up. And often that is through building relationships, Making Connections, political advocacy, getting engaged with your local council, if you have a really urgent need within your Social Enterprise, build all the relationships you can around that, and tell your story. Learn from what people say to you in terms of meeting the needs of councils”.

Richard Warner, Nundah Community Enterprises Cooperative

How have other social enterprises successfully scaled up their capacity and readiness to supply to government?

“Ability Enterprises story is that from little things, big things go. About 10 years ago we were able to dip our toes into the experience of dealing with local government, and Toowoomba Council have been really supportive of us as a social enterprise. We have been able to develop waste division…”

“And the system had other parts built into it, and we were able to build that into the second part of the contract which was good for us. Then we picked up the litter picking contract for council waste management sites”.

“Our recent activities has enabled us to grow our business down into the Lockyer Valley, and we provide metal recycling into the Lockyer Valley Council as well, which will hopefully provide opportunity into the future. Personally, from our experience with local government, local government is the same as any other government. They need to demonstrate transparency and rigour in their contracting. So, it is not a case of, "I am a Social Enterprise, give me work." They need to be accountable to their ratepayers and everyone has a budget”.

“But what you can do, is there are always trials. Things are always changing, people always need new work. But if you put your hand up and say, "I am interested in getting on board with you, is there is more opportunity where we can work with you?" It may not produce a goal met but it might be half a goal met that you can capitalise on later. And we have really worked on nurturing those relationships, taking on board the experiences learnt, and then use that as part of your tender application when it comes to addressing a full tender, because eventually, trials have to go to full tender, and if they are successful trials they will go to full tender as part of probity. So use that experience, write into the full tender”.

“We have looked for opportunities to complement our experience, so we have learned the award local government work under, which makes it easier to tender, because when you are tendering, you can pick your finances, and work that to be sustainable for you. So you know your cost of doing business, you know your cost of operation and can factor that into your tendering process as well”.

Tracey Scanlan, CEO of Ability Enterprises.

What are some key tips to navigating local government procurement?

“So, my biggest tip is to know your business, know your costs and costs of operation. Add value where you can, every business needs to add value, look at the process, at the project and deliver value, add to the project and see how you can still deliver value and how you can possibly deliver it differently”.

“If you are not successful, look at it as an opportunity for growth. You will not be successful all the time. If you were successful all the time, you need to look at yourselves and see if you are giving it to cheaply. Always ask for feedback, see what you can learn, keep a record of all your tenders. Most of the questions will be quite similar. Like tell us about your experience, tell us about your service delivery model, so keep a record of all your previous tenders. Just reading them, re-jig, because there is a lot of time and effort that goes into submitting a tender process”.

Tracey Scanlan, CEO of Ability Enterprises.

“You can make your argument around social impact and there is a cross benefit for that, in addition to depending on how tenders are written, that can be included as, you know, if you measure your social impact, and there is clarity around the -- that, councils can take that into consideration, is my understanding, in terms of the total cost benefit of the work you are doing. It might not just be purely commercial in terms of the commercial costs, so there may be some wiggle room in terms of pricing, depending on your model, and the impact you generate”.

Richard Warner, Nundah Community Enterprises Cooperative