I was there for a meeting of the SME Panel. I have blogged about this before but in summary I have been part of smallish group of SME business people over two and half years advising the Cabinet Office on how to make government procurement more 'SME friendly'.
The essence is this: SMEs can provide far better value services and products to government based on lower overheads, more innovation and better quality. This can lead to some staggering reductions in cost to the taxpayer as well as helping the British economy to grow. It is the proverbial 'no brainer'.
However (and this is a rather large however...) many (most?) government procurement departments at all levels and in many agencies seemed to be wedded to processes that favour larger organisations. And the only winners are these large companies: not the taxpayer, not the growing economy of smaller businesses and not the citizens (as the beneficiaries of these services). Frankly it is a huge scandal and it has been my pleasure to have been a small part in this government's attempt to turn the procurement tanker around in the English channel, as it were.
Anyway yesterday, we were graced by the presence of Lord Young and Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civil Society. They both listened carefully to all the points made by the panel members present. We also had some useful information given to us by Stephen Allot, the Crown Representative for SMEs.
Here are some of the points that were made:
- We were introduced to the "Small Business / GREAT Ambition" strategy of the government.
- The measures in this include abolishing PQQs for low value tenders (less than €200k), putting all public tenders onto a single site (Contracts Finder), a trip-advisor type feedback mechanism for purchasers to rate suppliers and vice versa... and more.
- The G-Cloud level playing field has shown just what SMEs can do: "as of the end of October 2013, 56% of of total public sector spend by value through the G-Cloud framework had gone to SME suppliers" (from Stephen Allot's blog)
- One of the suppliers around the table declared that they had just won a contract with a bid of £6m. A large well known IT supplier had also submitted a bid (and lost) of £100m. This points to the vast improvements in taxpayer value that can be achieved by procuring from SMEs
- Many parts of government are pursuing this strategy with verve and alacrity while other parts (sometimes even within the same Department) are still living in the 'dark ages'... paying out to over priced contracts because the procurement processes were not SME friendly
- A system will be introduced to shame government purchasers & large primes who fail to pay their suppliers on time