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How to ensure a five star public sector commissioning process

This is a commissioning checklist for commissioners, to help you engage successfully with voluntary organisations throughout the commissioning process.


Knowing the market

  • Do you know the number, size and capabilities of third sector providers and potential providers in the market?
  • Do you know what your current spend is with the third sector? 
  • Do you know the proportion of your spend between in-house providers, private providers and third sector providers? 
  • Can you separate the figures out across different specialisms or service areas?
  • Is there useful information about third sector providers held by the local infrastructure organisation that you could be accessing?

Developing the supplier base

  • Do you provide early notice of forthcoming procurement opportunities for all potential providers including the third sector?  
  • Do you hold Meet the Buyer events? 
  • Do you produce a how to do business with guide?
  • Do you publish a named contact for enquiries from potential suppliers?
  • Have you considered investing in third sector infrastructure organisations to undertake capacity building work to support provider networks?

Identifying needs and designing services

  • Have you considered what benefits working with the VCS could offer?
  • Are your consultation and decision-making processes open to the active involvement of relevant third sector organisations and networks? - Informal consultation is to be encouraged provided nothing is done to give a supplier an advantage in later competition
  • Have you considered using a third sector organisation with specialist knowledge and expertise to act as a consultant for you in designing service solutions?
  • Have you considered the potential of a third sector organisation to undertake research or advocacy work - especially to access socially excluded groups?
  • Have you considered commissioning a specialist third sector organisation to deliver resources for you, for example, good practice materials, or staff training/induction?

Developing a procurement strategy

  • Have you worked proactively with your procurement team to ensure that the procurement process encourages the involvement of third sector providers?
  • Have you given careful attention to the optimum length of contract?
  • Have you considered benefits of dividing the contract into smaller lots?
  • Does your organisation/department have a clear policy on the use of different types of funding - grants, service level agreements, contracts and do you have a mechanism that enables you to choose the most appropriate funding approach for ensuring outcomes are met? 
  • Are there innovative approaches or pilot schemes for which grant funding would be more appropriate? 
  • Have you considered what impact your proposed procurement approach might have on smaller and local providers?
  • Have you considered the value of having a mix of providers to deliver the contract rather than one main provider?
  • If only a small number of third sector organisations provide the service you want to commission, could you operate a 'preferred provider' approach rather than going through a full tendering process (thus reducing the administrative burden on potential providers)?   
  • If you are commissioning a 'Part B service' have you considered the impact on the third sector of going through a full European Union tendering process if this is not mandatory?

Specification writing

  • Is your specification clear, exhaustive and free from jargon?
  • Have your service specifications been informed by meaningful consultation with stakeholders and have you sought comments on draft specifications from providers? 
  • Do you have a system for regularly inviting comment on draft specifications from the voluntary sector?
  • Have you considered what added value the voluntary sector could offer when delivering a contract and reflected this additionality in the service specification?
  • Where appropriate, does your specification ask providers to demonstrate a detailed local knowledge and understanding of local context and local needs?
  • Have you considered the whole life costs of the contract and how Value For Money can be achieved by including wider social, economic and environmental objectives in the specification? 
  • Have you allocated risk to the body best able to deal with it?
  • Are your specification requirements focused on the outcomes to be achieved (not on outputs or activities)? 
  • Could you include the notion of social value as a method for achieving wider outcomes?
  • If appropriate, are opportunities for sub-contracting and consortia bids from third sector providers identified and encouraged?

Publishing contract opportunities

  • Do you provide early notice of forthcoming procurements?
  • How widely do you publicise opportunities?
  • Do your distribution lists include third sector organisations and provider forums?
  • Do you encourage key suppliers to publicise opportunities for sub contracts
  • Is your procurement timetable long enough to encourage bids from smaller providers, partnerships or consortia?


  • Are your pre-qualification criteria carefully chosen so as to avoid unnecessarily ruling out potentially competent suppliers who may not have an extensive track record?
  • Are your pre-qualification criteria proportionate to the value of the contract and the level of risk? 
  • Is the financial information you require proportionate? Have you taken into account the quality standards relevant to third sector organisations, including considering the use of passporting or proxy quality standards?

Invitation to tender

  • Is the tender documentation clear, concise and jargon free?
  • Have you provided prospective providers with information setting out the background to the project, the organisation's objectives and an outline procurement process and timetable, with roles and responsibilities made clear?
  • Have you considered offering training to potential providers to enable them to improve their tender submissions?
  • Have you considered holding provider briefing events to explain the tendering timescales and your criteria for the tender?
  • Have you provided guidance on TUPE to providers and considered supporting preferred providers to undertake assessments of TUPE obligations and any due diligence required for collaborative working?

Contract and payment terms

  • Are the contract terms and conditions proportionate to the scale and complexity of the contract?
  • Have allocated risk to the body best able to deal with it?
  • Have you considered what impact the payment terms might have on the cash flow of a third sector organisation and whether this might deter them from bidding? 
  • Are your payment terms sufficiently flexible to make early or advance payments e.g. for start-up costs?
  • Do you have a system for making frequent milestone payments?
  • Do you paying promptly?
  • Is there a clearly identified liaison person for payment problems?

Evaluation and clarification of tenders

  • Have you explained the evaluation process to tenderers at the outset, including the criteria to be used and their relative importance?
  • Have social considerations detailed in the specification also been reflected in the evaluation criteria and given appropriate weighting so that they can be properly assessed?
  • Do your tender evaluation panels have the right skills to assess compliance with social impact criteria?
  • Are you treating third sector organisations the same as other bidders in how they set the price (inclusive of overheads and management costs) of delivering a contract?

Award of contract

  • Have you informed all bidders that feedback is available? On unsuccessful bids, do you offer feedback that is as helpful as possible and designed to promote future improvements?
  • If relevant, have you agreed transition arrangements in advance with providers?
  • Have you factored the transition period into your project timescales?

Contract management

  • Are contract management arrangements made clear in the tender documentation (so that tenderers can allow for the resources and costs involved in their tender price)?
  • Do you seek early supplier involvement in the design of contract management procedures?
  • Is reporting proportionate to the size and complexity of the contract?
  • Where providers are jointly commissioned, do you have a standardised reporting procedure?
  • Are your reporting requirements focused on measuring the key Outcomes?
  • Do you have a simple and pre-agreed change control process?
  • Do you encourage and incentivise third sector providers to come forward with ideas for better ways of working (which can lead to benefits for both parties)?
  • Does the contract documentation provide an opportunity to resolve disputes in a way that is accessible to smaller third sector providers?


Page last edited Nov 08, 2013 History

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