Civil servants urged to make better use of Digital Marketplace

A new survey of technology SMEs has uncovered ‘widespread concern’ that public-sector procurement staff are not using all available tools to buy services from smaller firms.

The research by industry body techUK found that while initiatives such as the government’s Digital Marketplace portal and G-Cloud frameworks were well received, more work was needed to boost civil-servant awareness of how SMEs can meet their needs.

The government has set a target of directing 33 per cent of procurement spending to SMEs by 2020. According to the Crown Commercial Service, the current level is 26 per cent.

Almost all of the 171 respondents to the techUK survey did not believe civil-servant buyers had a good understanding of how small providers could meet their needs, although 80 per cent said G-Cloud had helped them access the government market.

Businesses ranked the issue of late payments as being of least concern as a barrier to entering the government market, but two-thirds called for initiatives to target the “onerous procurement process”, while 59 per cent expressed concern about a “risk-averse culture” among civil servants.

TechUK associate director Naureen Khan said the survey findings showed government was on the right track, but that more work was required to boost procurement from SME providers.

“SMEs are overwhelmingly positive about the government’s new target, and G-Cloud is the clear ‘star of the show’,” she said. “The next phase needs to focus on raising awareness and use of important tools such as G-Cloud, Contracts Finder and Mystery Shopper. Government and industry need to work together to enable and support better collaboration through the supply chain.”

Chris Gledhill, chief executive officer of software-development and IT services provider PDMS, said there was an “underlying assumption” in government procurement thinking that important projects could not be delivered by SMEs, and that the assumption tended to be built in to the pre-selection process, irrespective of what mechanism or framework was used.

“SMEs tend to provide both subject matter and technical expertise but the procurement process subordinates this to process compliance and demonstrable scale,” he said.

Crown Commercial Service chief executive Sally Collier said small businesses’ potential to transform government services was well-understood.

“We know that small businesses can be highly innovative and have the expertise we need to secure more value for the public sector,” she said. “That’s why government is changing the way it does business to open up public sector procurement to more small businesses.”

More details on the techUK survey’s findings can be found in its Procuring for Innovation & Growth report.

Colin Marrs

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