Government standard promises to open up procurement for SMEs

The government has said it will put with users first in a joint supplier standard with industry, as the new Cabinet Office minister pledged to make it easier for small businesses to gain government contracts.

The government wants to show it is open for business for SMEs – Photo credit: Flickr, MIKI Yoshihito

The Supplier Standard, published today, sets out six principles for departments and companies to work together as part of the government’s drive to increase innovation in its use of technology.

Launching the standard at TechUK’s London office, the minister of the Cabinet Office Ben Gummer said that the government wanted to do “everything it could” to help small and medium-sized business win government contracts.

Saying that he had run a small business, Gummer added that he understood the position SMEs found themselves in; often feeling that they “haven’t had as fruitful a relationship with government as you feel bigger suppliers have had”.

The government intended to change this, he went on. “We want you to feel government is a willing partner, and with you, not putting blocks in your path”, Gummer said. “Frankly big business can look after themselves.”

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His speech, given to representatives of smaller businesses, acknowledged that this would only be possible with the cooperation of government, saying that he would “make sure government doesn’t do it reluctantly”.

In line with this, the supplier standard commits the government to ensuring that there is ongoing engagement between suppliers and government. It also says that procurement should take place through a transparent process with simple, clear and fast transactions.

Meanwhile, on the supplier side, the principles require that the user need is put first, adding that suppliers will have to respond quickly and efficiently to changes in user needs and that they should not add unnecessary extras to services.

Gummer said the aim was to “re-establish that the relationship between government and people is service”. He said that the least the government should offer is the ability to do things properly, get them right first time and without losing data.

“Anyone who has tried to engage with government online will know that government rarely presents itself as the servant of the people; in fact almost precisely the opposite in many instances,” he said.

The other points covered by the standard include that suppliers must support the government’s need for free and open access to anonymised user and service data and that services are built on open standards with reusable components.

In a later panel debate discussing the standard, Andy Beale, chief technology officer at the Government Digital Service, said that it was important that there was collaboration, both within government and between Whitehall and suppliers.

In response to a question about making procurement easier, Beale said that both the GDS and the Crown Commercial Service had done a lot of work to “take the friction out” of the process – such as by creating the Digital Marketplace – but that they recognised there was more to be done.

“The point of standard is to work together and figure out where pain points are,” he said. “And it gives you permission to call it out if it’s not happening.”

Meanwhile, Sharon Bagshaw, vice-president for central government, defence, health and life sciences at IBM UK, said that, from a supplier’s perspective the principles allowed better collaboration. “For sure the world isn’t perfect at the moment,” she said, “but the door is open for us as an industry, and it’s a good opportunity for us to further reinforce and reflect, from an industry point of view, what works and what doesn’t.”


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