The Department for Work and Pensions is asking its systems integrators to list the number of SMEs in their supply chains, in a move designed to open up more public sector contracts to small businesses.
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Speaking to Computer Weekly, David Smith, commercial director at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), said the findings would not necessarily lead to a quota system with the government mandating a set percentage of small suppliers. But he said it would enable the DWP to encourage system integrators to include more SMEs in their subcontracting.
David Smith said he was in talks with seven system integrators, including HP, CSC, Atos and BT.
Phil McCabe, senior policy advisor at the Forum for Private Businesses, believed a quota system would be helpful: "It would certainly be one way of opening up the process. But it would also be good if there was a more direct point of contact for small firms."
But David Wilde, CIO of Essex County Council, said the onus is also on SMEs to be smarter about how they approach the public sector: "Small businesses have to be able to answer the question of whether they can scale, that's something public bodies need to know and with the cloud it has become something easier for SMEs to achieve."
However, David Wilde added that there is a tendency in UK government to make procurement processes too bureaucratic. "I do think in the past it has been easier for SMEs to win contracts in local government as they have a smaller amount of people and processes to go through," he said.
Smith and Wilde were attending the government's Innovation Launchpad event this week, where nine SMEs were invited to pitch their business propositions to civil servants and government procurement heads.
Closing the event Stephen Allott, the Crown Representative for SMEs, said: "The small businesses here have had exposure to more buying power in one room than anywhere in Europe."
Mike Lynch, chief executive of technology company Autonomy, was also at the event to grill the SMEs presenting.
He has been an outspoken champion of British technology SMEs and has criticised the government for not including more in procurement processes. "We should do what the Americans do, who favour US companies and SMEs. Why should we be playing on different rules to the US - it's crazy," Mike Lynch said at a conference earlier this year.