Friday, 21 June 2013

SME friendly procurement: a radical tool

For over two years I have been an active member of the Cabinet Office's SME Panel. The other members come from a wide range of businesses including software development, travel agency services and food supply. We have met about eight times as a full panel and there have been several sub groups meeting at more regular intervals.

The Panel began following a summit hosted by the Prime Minister and Francis Maude. I am still unclear as to how I was invited along to the original summit and thence to the panel. Perhaps it was down to my humorous rant against the excesses of some procurement approaches or the fact that I dared to challenge David Cameron at the summit about the scandal of battlefield soldiers being isolated in tanks which are not adequately equipped for the real situation, because those soldiers had no input to the procurement process. We need 'whole system procurement'.

One of the pieces of work of the panel that I became closely involved with was the creation of an 'SME friendly' tool, designed to change government and public procurement forever.

This tool has now (finally!) been uploaded to the Cabinet Office website and I can proudly (and publicly) tell you more about it. You can access the tool here. The tool has been trialed  in a number of central government departments and thence refined into the version on the net. The Cabinet Office have informed the SME Panel that its use is now growing across Whitehall and beyond.

I regard it as a positive sign that the Government does mean business about reforming procurement and is still persuaded that leveling the playing field so that more SMEs can bid for government contracts is valuable.

There are some of my colleagues on the SME Panel who are very concerned that there are indications that the Cabinet Office has been taking its foot off the pedal a little, of late. They fear what we are seeing is a growth of larger organisations still snaffling (to use a technical term) too much of government business in ways that mean the taxpayers and citizens are losing out (big time). While there does appear to be a belief that if the large primes sub contract their work to SMEs then the taxpayer will still reap the big rewards of lower spend and more innovation (which is largely not the case when you factor in embedded supply chain margins and large prime practices), I am more sanguine.

Changing government and public sector procurement was always going to be a long haul and I am realistic enough to know that there are many deep vested interests in maintaining the status quo. I am also aware there are many practices ensconced in public procurement departments that unwittingly favour contracting with larger suppliers. (If you are a public sector professional and you want someone to come in and help you uncover these practices and change them... just get in touch!)

In sum, I am hugely proud of the efforts that the small team, of which I was a part, put into creating the 'SME friendly tool'. Within this self assessment tool, there is hope for not only fairer procurement processes but critically also processes that result in lower costs, more innovation, better outcomes and investment in growing business in the country.

What other government tools can achieve all that?!

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