Small businesses play an important role in the economy - that is why the Office of Government Commerce is working to reduce the barriers that prevent smaller suppliers from fully participating in the market.
With the drive to gain value for money across public sector procurement spend and 3.75 million small to medium-sized enterprises in the UK, it is vital that they are able to fully engage in the public sector market so that government can take advantage of a dynamic marketplace when delivering public sector projects and get value for money.
The OGC recently launched a pilot scheme in the West Midlands aimed at ensuring SMEs have easier access to government contracts. It will work to reduce the unnecessary bureaucracy in government tendering. It will also work in partnership with key government departments in the region and local authorities, to ensure that procurement opportunities are more accessible to smaller suppliers in the area.
For the SMEs participating in the pilot scheme, this will mean access to government opportunities through an electronic tender portal.
There are good reasons why small businesses should get involved in the delivery of public sector work. Doing business with government can mean working with a professional and reliable client which pays on time and offers the opportunity to get involved in the delivery of complex public sector projects.
In the IT sector small businesses offer advantages, including flexibility and responsiveness, so that the needs of the customer are quickly met. When tendering for contracts smaller organisations need to highlight these strengths. It is also recognised, particularly in IT, that smaller companies can offer more innovative solutions with value-for-money advantages, particularly as they often work in niche markets. If you have a product or service that is particularly innovative it is often more appropriate to contact organisations direct rather than wait for opportunities to be advertised.
Smaller companies should not underestimate the importance of getting online. Local Business Links can be a useful source of suppliers and advice about getting IT support, as well as finding local opportunities and alerting suppliers to tender notification systems. The NHS Purchasing and Supply Association has also launched an information database that invites potential suppliers to register on the site.
The OGC and the SBS have launched a Supplying Government website that provides a single reference point for suppliers wishing to find out about selling to government. It has contact details for every major government department with a summary of the products and services each buys, links to procurement pages and guidance for small suppliers.
Capacity may be an issue and consortium bids are one way SMEs can get involved in the delivery of complex projects. Sub-contracting is also worth considering. The OGC's trading arm, OGCbuying.solutions, runs a number of framework agreements including S-cat, an electronic catalogue giving public sector procurers details of suppliers of IT consultancy and services. Details of prime contractors listed on S-cat are available online.
Government is committed to opening up the public sector marketplace to enable suppliers of all sizes to compete on a more level playing field.
Suzy Fenn is government market advisor at the OGC
The OGC service desk
Tel: 0845-000 4999
This was first published in October 2003