Whilst the government announced this month a further £7 million in funding for “test bed” projects across England that will help improve patient outcomes and the way NHS staff work, it seems that SMEs are still finding it difficult to get a slice of the public sector procurement action.
Earlier this year, UK government lawyers created much shorter, supposedly more user-friendly, public sector contracts to encourage smaller businesses (SMEs) to bid for government contracts. This was the result of a report by the Federation of Small Business that maintained that many SMEs were reluctant to bid for public contracts because they were too confusing and complicated. The Crown Commercial Service instigated a review which found that the standard public procurement contract given to SMEs contained hundreds of pages of terms and conditions that were largely irrelevant to many deals that were not of a complex nature.
A new white paper₁ published by Brightman Business Solutions entitled “Taking the Breaks off: How SMEs can be unleashed to drive the rapid digitisation of the public sector” points out the challenges still faced by SMEs when attempting to work with the public sector and also analyses the government’s approach to IT procurement, focusing on recommendations to improve the fairness of procurement to ensure better digital public services. The Brightman report maintains that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) hold the key to public sector digitisation and keeping them out of this sector contracts will be detrimental to the digitisation process.
Coincidently, the NHS projects referred above include:
- a new digital platform to help people to manage diabetes
- the combination of 3 new digital technologies to help reduce A&E admissions for patients with chronic long-term heart failure
- the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to deliver a more accurate and efficient breast cancer screening
It would seem that things still need to change if SMEs are going to make a contribution here and if the government is going to meet its commitment to spending 33 per cent of public sector procurement directly with SMEs by 2022. Latest projections by the FSB put this at around 19 per cent.
Brightman director Romy Hughes said: “Despite the launch of numerous government policies and initiatives – and the introduction of the government’s own targets to direct more public sector expenditure directly to SMEs – most small and medium sized businesses remain locked out of public sector contracts altogether.
“This is not just detrimental to SMEs that feel they are unfairly discriminated against, but it is holding back the digitisation of the public sector. SMEs can offer greater innovation, value-for-money and flexibility than much larger providers. It is time the government matched its ambitions with policies that genuinely help SMEs to compete for government contracts.”
The Brightman report recommendations include an overhaul of framework agreements to make them more user-friendly; introduction of fairer terms of business to prevent larger suppliers from negotiating better payment terms than their SME competitors; and committing more government resources to manage increase in the number of SME suppliers.
Sources & Acknowledgements: GovTechLeaders, CBR, Government Technology; uk gov