Portal could enable SMEs to win Whitehall contracts

The Government is considering plans to set up a procurement portal to link small businesses and public sector organisations via...

The Government is considering plans to set up a procurement portal to link small businesses and public sector organisations via broadband, according to e-commerce minister Stephen Timms.

The SME Government Procurement Portal will be aimed specifically at small businesses, helping them to offer products and services to central and local government using broadband connectivity, if new proposals get the go-ahead. Companies that take part will be able to bid for a portion of the multibillion-pound government procurement market.

The initiative is one of five proposals contained in a report commissioned by the Department of Trade & Industry and the Digital Content Forum. Timms described the proposals as "interesting ideas" and said the Government is yet to decide whether to implement them. "This report offers some innovative suggestions for Government involvement in content development which I will be studying very carefully," he said.

Experts have given a cautious welcome to the SME portal. Analyst Jan Dawson of Ovum said, "This will probably help SMEs to get their products bought but it doesn't necessarily stimulate broadband take-up, which is what the Government has promised that it will do."

Other suggested projects include a Broadband Tourism Portal to provide tourism information, and a Broadband Channel, which has been described by the Government as "a Channel 4 for the broadband age", based on the broadcaster's joint-finance model. This organisation would work with distributors such as Internet service providers, mobile network providers and TV companies.

Timms, who recently took over from Douglas Alexander as e-commerce minister, has identified broadband as one of his key priorities, along with 3G mobile communications and digital TV. He said, "We are seeing a substantial rate of growth [in broadband] at the moment." New connections in the UK are running at 20,000 a week.

Last week the Government announced a plan to develop broadband within the UK. Later this year it will establish centrally-co-ordinated DTI regional advisers and a team of experts in the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) to advise on procurement deals negotiated by the OGC for the public sector.

Timms, who has 15 years experience in the IT industry working for services forum Logica and analyst firm Ovum, is already liaising closely with industry bodies on key issues such as broadband. He said, "It is a feature of the IT industry that people are ready to come forward with advice and criticisms. That is a key resource for me as minister."

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