The Government has apparently made it easier for SMEs to bid for public sector contracts, by removing the charges previously levied for access to its dedicated procurement site, www.supply2.gov.uk. Up until this week, small firms wishing to use the site – which lists details of current Government contracts up for tender – had to pay £180 per annum for the privilege of doing so, but now they log in for free. We’re all for small firms taking a larger slice of the public sector pie, but is this really going to solve the problem in its entirety?
The Government has been harping on for ages about making public procurement more accessible for small businesses, but thus far, it has shown little sign of putting its money where its mouth is. So removing the cost barrier to access the procurement website is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.
However, the deal is not quite as generous as it might first appear. The free access actually only applies to lower-value contracts in the sub-£100k bracket – if you want to be able to see the high-value contracts, you’ll still have to pay for it. Admittedly these smaller deals are the ones that smaller firms will usually focus on, but it does place a ceiling on your ambition. And then there’s the tempting opportunity to have tender details delivered direct to your inbox, for the princely sum of 19p a day. (As if you didn’t get enough spam already, you now have to pay for the privilege.)
There’s no doubt that bridging the gap between small businesses and Government could have benefits all round. The Glover review, published last year, found that not only are small businesses missing out on the financial rewards of Government contracts – which, incidentally are worth £175bn a year (at least for now) – but also that public sector buyers are missing out on innovation and savings because they’re not considering smaller bidders. At a time when the public purse needs to pinch its pennies, that’s less than ideal.
But although admirable in principle, we’re not really convinced that the Government’s latest attempt to woo small business leaders goes far enough in practice. It’s not just about accessing tenders – it’s also that Government procurement is long, complex and costs a lot of money. It’s all very well being able to see the contracts, but having the patience and the capital to pursue and fulfill them is another issue entirely...
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