Critical guidance for SHDF bidders
[10 November 2022] From our review of draft applications, we've identified bid weaknesses across the board that require attention, including delivery assurance, the risk register, answer structure, tenant engagement, and digitalisation.
Over the past few weeks, the SHRA team has been reading through draft SHDF application forms as part of our Critical Friend Reviews. We’ve been really impressed at the range of ambition in the housing sector, along with the creative approaches to retrofit, tenant engagement, sectoral partnering and supply chain integration.
We’ve also identified some areas of the application form that require attention from bidders across the board.
With a week to go until the submission deadline, we’ve prepared some critical guidance to help bidders have the best possible chance of writing a high quality bid that assessors find easy to mark.
Structure your answer
Break down the question
Start by breaking each of the questions down into bullet points and use each bullet point as a guide to develop your response. You can tick off each section of the question when you have an answer.
We are seeing a lot of answers drift away from what the assessor is asking. The question provides its own guidance on how to structure an answer, with the initial question being followed by italicised text, like this:
How have you identified the stock and made sure the data you have provided in table 1 is accurate? Evidence may be submitted as Annex B.
Applicants should explain the stock assessment process that was used to identify these homes as being suitable for this application. Please outline the approach that has been taken to provide accurate data, including any steps taken to mitigate against reliance on poor quality data.
Guidance on what SHDF assessors want in your answer.
Break down this text into bullet points and put initial answers against each.
For example, the following paragraph is taken from Question 2.1b of the application form. We’ve broken it into three bullet points and given an example answer for each bullet point. With this kind of detail, you can start to write your narrative:
1. Detail should be provided on the proportion of stock in the bid covered by the methodology used to provide data on the starting condition of homes – e.g., “94% of our stock is covered by the methodology”
2. The proportion of stock in the bid where assumptions have been made on starting condition based on data from similar properties (i.e. gap data). – e.g., “6% of our stock has been modelled using assumptions and cloning from similar properties”
3. An assessment should be made of how the proportion of gap data included impacts the overall quality and accuracy of bid data. – e.g., “Data gaps cover lighting types and the age of doors, which we estimate has a maximum of 0.5 SAP point impact based on average SAP points for these measures. We’ve rated the confidence of other asset data as a minimum of 8/10 using our branded analytics platform. Where we’ve cloned data within the same block it is for the external wall type and is therefore low risk as the wall is a continuous envelope around the building.”
Develop your response
When you have material for each of your bullet points, you need to structure the answer so the assessor finds it easy to get the right information. Our advice is to use the ‘NOSE’ approach (Need, Outcome, Solution, Evidence):
Need – what problem are you being asked to solve with the question? E.g.:
a. How did you choose your properties?
b. How will you manage your budget?
c. How will you manage the project?
Outcome – what really matters to the assessor in answering this question? E.g.:
a. That you understand your properties and your data quality.
b. That you have good processes and procedures in place to forecast budgets, check spend variance, can identify budget issues before they arise and can escalate issues through an appropriate channel.
c. That you can manage your project starting with the end in mind, with work broken down into manageable phases with clear milestones and activities in each phase, and clear resources for each delivery phase.
Solutions – what is your solution to answering the Need? How did you do it, and what processes have you put in place? E.g.:
a. Did you use a data analytics platform?
b. Do you have a budget control process in your organisation?
c. Do you have a project plan in place? Do you have a series of governance meetings for assessing risk and agreeing responses at operational and strategic level?
Evidence – what evidence do you have to support your response? E.g.:
a. Can you demonstrate when you’ve done this before successfully on a similar project or programme?
b. Can you reference a suitable Annex where the point is expanded more clearly?
c. Have you had grant money from the government before? When you delivered this kind of project before, what were the outcomes? What did you learn from it, what did you change and what will you do better this time?
Providing evidence is especially important where general statements have been made. For example, “We conducted Retrofit Assessments of properties” doesn’t tell the assessor anything.
“We identified 15 properties where we had very poor data (3% of the total). We conducted Retrofit Assessments of these properties, and used the resulting SAP-compliant Medium Term Plans to identify a fabric first approach to get to SAP 69. We used the information to update our asset management software and branded analytics platform to improve data modelling confidence”, is a much more complete answer, providing evidence of what you did, why and what happened with the outcome.
Don’t waffle – signpost your answer
Ask someone to read your answers (if our team has not been able to provide you with a Critical Friend Review).
If your reviewer can’t get a sense of your answer within the first sentence, then your response needs to be re-structured. Signpost your answer, and don’t make the assessor read through three paragraphs before they reach what they need.
For example, for Q3.4 you might want to start with a sentence like, “Our Project Plan identifies each phase of our project, including how many homes we will assess, enable and retrofit in each phase, the anticipated capital spend for each phase, and how many post-retrofit checks we will make in each month to check the installation quality.”
This single sentence sets the tone for answer Q3.4, which can then be expanded upon with the outcomes from this approach, more detail on your solution – i.e. how you will do it – and evidence of where you’ve done it before.
Annexes and tables
Annexes are a critical part of your application form, and must be referenced properly at appropriate points throughout your answers.
Make sure the data and figures in the tables are the same as the data and figures you’ve put into your written answers.
Other top tips
Assume each question will be read by a different assessor and repeat any details necessary across different answers.
If you are using a branded approach to retrofit, e.g. Energiesprong or Passivhaus, don’t assume the assessor has heard of it or understands it as well as you do. You must explain your branded approach as if to a new audience.
Delivery assurance and the risk register
This section is strategically important for your bid. It tells the assessor how you will manage your project over the next 2-3 years, and therefore must give the government confidence that your organisation can manage the grant funding responsibly and deliver the SHDF outcomes.
Importantly, this section gives a clear view on how likely your project is to fail.
In our Critical Friend Reviews of draft application forms, we have found this to be the weakest section for bidders across the board.
Our strong recommendation is that more focus and effort is put into these answers before submission, to put you in the best position to win grant funding. You need to be very clear about the following broad issues:
Evidence of previous successful delivery
What retrofit have you delivered before? Give some evidence of the project size, outcomes, what you learned, and how you will apply those learnings through your SHDF project.
If you have not delivered retrofit before, what transferrable experience do you have? What experience does your supply chain have? What details can you include to give SHDF assessors assurance that you can deliver?
How will you manage delivery of this project?
From our review of applications so far, we feel these areas need stronger responses to put you in the best position to win grant funding.
- Supply chain: describe your approach to procurement, and what your supply chain looks like. Give enough detail to make SHDF assessors confident that you have a competent delivery partner in place.
If procurement isn’t complete, describe where you are with it, the timelines for completion, and how these fit into your delivery project plan.
Identify the risks and mitigations of a delayed procurement – what can you be getting on with in the background that will progress your project and further de-risk delivery when your supplier is in place?
- Controlling costs: controlling costs in your supply chain, including inflation.
Your approach to cost control must link to the costings in the data tables – for example, if you have built in 10% inflation, make sure this figure is used in both your written answer and the costings.
Describe how you have built expected inflation into your costs, contracts and discussions with suppliers. Describe the mechanisms you have in place for dealing with supplier cost increases. Effectively, how will you protect yourself and the government from spiralling costs?
- Managing risk: managing risk through your delivery structure, including any consortium members as well as your supply chain. See the section below on How will you manage risk?
- Property change requests: how many properties do you have to draw on in the event of refusals? How will you manage refusals? How will you reduce the risk of refusals in the first place?
Property level cost control: for example in properties where the chosen retrofit approach needs to be changed. What is your value engineering approach? How will you keep the property cost the same if you need to change the retrofit approach?
How will you manage risk?
We’ve seen quite a few applications which – in our view - miss some easy wins with the risk register.
The risk register is a management tool that is used proactively to identify risks before they arise, to agree an approach to that risk, and to keep track of what is done to manage or mitigate the risk. This is important for the government, which is disbursing public money and needs to demonstrate that it will be spent responsibly.
Bidders therefore need to reference specific lines in the risk register at appropriate points in their answers. It should not just be an Annex that sits on its own.
The risk register must be reviewed at regular intervals, and the assessor must understand your approach to the risk register from your answers. How often will you review it, and who is responsible for this? What happens to changed risk scores, and what is the mechanism for raising new risks? How will these be raised with SHDF prgroamme officials?
For consortia: how are risks escalated from a member to the consortium programme level? How are they managed, and who has decision making authority? And in reverse, how are programme-level risks mirrored at member-level, and how is responsibility delegated where appropriate?
Remember that your risk rating scores are based on the risk before it is managed. This means you are showing the assessor that you understand the level of risk you are carrying.
The bid questions focused on tenant engagement ask about tenant needs. Answers would be improved by referring to the customer journey and having a Resident Engagement and Communication Plan.
Reference how you're acknowledging residents who are more vulnerable to fuel poverty, carrying out equality impact assessments and designing retrofit measures with the tenant.
Remember also to include your approach to supporting vulnerable residents and those with specific accessibility requirements. How will you address their specific needs? E.g. by engaging early and through different media like videos, providing translated materials, using software platforms, and so on.
Digitalisation of retrofit innovation funding
The government has indicated that digitalisation will play an important role in Wave 2.1 applications, and we therefore recommend you describe how you are supporting the end-to-end digitalisation of retrofit projects.
- Make reference to your organisation’s existing digitalisation strategy and how its inclusion in this bid supports your strategy delivery.
- Include why this will help the wider sector and allow for future retrofit delivery at scale.
- Make clear which of the four areas of innovation you are applying for and why (link to table 16).
Answering as a consortium
There are two approaches to answering a question as a consortium.
Make it clear when the approach is unified or where it differs across the consortium. Using we can get confusing if the answer switches focus from consortium level to member level.
If you go for the united approach, there is also a risk of losing specificity. In some cases, you may need to focus on the Lead Applicant’s approach to provide better evidence.
Be clear about your governance structures:
- How will admin between the members be dealt with?
- How will risks be escalated?
- How are disputes resolved, and who has final decision-making capability?
- Who is ultimately responsible for the delivery of the programme?
- Who is the reporting lead for the consortium, who talks with SHDF programme officials? And who are the reporting leads for consortium members?
Sell the benefits of a consortium approach to ensure the long-term delivery of your retrofit project. Have you been able to scale up quicker, share costs, or share resources? Are you setting up a learning environment to share best practice?