The co-chair of the New Suppliers to Government panel, Mark Taylor, has quit over scepticism around Cabinet Office figures claiming the amount of government business going to SMEs has doubled.
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Taylor, who is also CEO of small open source company Sirius, praised Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude for his sincerity in trying to increase the SME market in the public sector. But he said he resigned because he didn’t want to be remembered as “the guy always complaining about government.”
Taylor said: “I do have concerns about the direction of policy and am genuinely sceptical about the figures [which claim SME business has doubled from 6.7% to 13.7%].
"I think I have a right to be, as there are a number of SMEs I’ve to spoken to that are finding it more difficult to do business with government and that maps with my direct experience."
Taylor said he was concerned that the figures may not reflect the doubling of SME business, but rather the government casting its net wider in how it counts the number of small businesses it already trades with.
“It seems to me that what we are potentially looking at is a recounting. So do we count suppliers of sandwiches to system integrators as counting towards targets the 25%?
“If they are simply counting better then it seems a little disingenuous to say that they’ve doubled SME business with government just by identifying them. I’m not saying they haven’t necessarily done that, just that I’m a little sceptical."
He added: "If there is another £3bn going to SMEs, I feel I would have noticed it.”
Taylor said the figures should be released as open data so the increase could be verified independently.
The panel’s critical role was not welcomed by government, he said. “I have the distinct impression that holding their feet to the fire is not actually what they required.”
He added: “The feedback I’ve had from SMEs is that there is actually a lot of consolidation, centralisation and in fact contracts that were handed to SMEs and some micro business with highly specific skills are being centralised, so SMEs are being forced to go through someone else’s supply chain. Asking the SIs [systems integrators] to police that is unlikely to get the result. I don’t personally believe in that, I think it’s the wrong approach."
But Justin Bowser, CEO of small cloud supplier HTK Horizon, who is also a member of the New Suppliers to Government panel, said Whitehall is making genuine progress in its SME engagement.
“We now have an SME panel sitting at the top table having those conversations and there are more discussions about SME engagement – I feel it’s not just spin but a genuine change in attitude," he said.
“We have to be cognizant that this is a long-term objective and government works slowly. Part of what the SME panel needs to be doing is looking into those figures and making sure there is a material change."
The G-cloud procurements, for example, are a world apart from previous practices, said Bowser.
“My experience in the tech space is that there has been an absolute sea change. Tech is where a lot of government spend goes, and there are definite benefits it can draw from working with SMEs, through innovative technology, agile practices, and existing cloud platforms,” he said.
The Cabinet Office has yet to comment.