Tender documents: Why don’t the authors seek more guidance?

Although I am regularly invited to tender for work, I don’t normally respond to the larger contracts typically offered by local authorities and housing associations.  They are often for tree works contracts, or larger operations than suit me, and are not always easy to find.  I recently had to search through a national list of more than 100 to find the one relating to trees which I had been informed of!  However, it has struck me over the past few years how often information is requested, or data required to be collected, which does not relate to the project being considered.

A nurseryman shared with me several years ago the frustration of having to read through a tender document covering more than 100 pages for which only 2 pages related to the supply of trees.  At this point, the specification became technical, and outside the experience of the authors, whose requirement was so limited that it could be met by supplying dead trees! (Apparently, only the size of tree and production method were specified).

I was recently invited to tender for one contract, assessing tree condition, where information needed to be to BS3998 2010 and BS5837:2012.  I was half expecting reference to BS8545:2014 and BS4045 (for good measure).  Earlier this year, I considered a contract for a housing association, again assessing tree condition.  I used to work for a local authority where the pricing range for tree works was based, in part, on the size of the tree as measured by the girth.  There were five categories, and so size can matter.  However, I was being required to measure girth and crown spread with a 10% accuracy requirement.  I am not sure, when it comes to safety, how important it is to know that a tree has a crown spread to the north of 6.2m, rather than 6m!  Tree species also needed to be by botanical name to cultivar.  When I found out that the sites were in east London, it was one contract I was happy to pass on.

I am familiar with clients who value some guidance on what data or type of report they need.  Much of my work is tree reports to BS5837:2012.  There are occasions when a local authority requests the report to BS5837:2005!  However, I am more than happy to guide through the maze and present the client with the appropriate document. 

Sometimes, the client will recognise the limits of their knowledge.  Back in 2012, I tendered for a contract to survey trees across some 80 sites throughout the Midlands for a housing association.  I was invited to explain what information was needed to manage the trees and how I would collect this data.  I was happy to provide my Method Statement, and even happier to be awarded the contract.  I wish more organisations would take this approach.  We may even raise the standard of work being done!