Small IT suppliers still facing barriers in working with Whitehall, survey says

A TechUK survey has revealed that 94% of smaller companies don’t think civil servants understand how their services can help meet government needs.

Access denied: SMEs struggle with government procurement processes – Photo credit: Flickr, ramblem22, CC BY 2.0

The annual survey asked 171 SMEs about their ability to win government contracts and experience of working with the civil service.

The government has pledged to boost its use of SMEs in government projects, and has committed to spend £1 in every £3 of government procurement on smaller companies by 2020.

However, the results of the TechUK survey indicated a general lack of engagement between companies and civil servants. SMEs said there were still numerous barriers to winning government contracts, with procurement processes and terms and conditions being the most problematic.

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Some 94% of responding companies said they did not think that civil servant buyers had a good understanding of what SMEs could offer them.

Although this was an improvement of two percentage points on last year, TechUK said it demonstrated the “urgent need to improve engagement between the industry and the government earlier in the commissioning process”.

This, it said, would “expose civil servants to the range of innovation tech that’s available in a fast moving tech market”.

The results also suggest that SMEs are not able to use the tools the government has made available to them to help with procurement effectively.

For instance, 86% said they had not used the government’s mystery shopper service, which allows suppliers to raise concerns about public procurement practice, while 65% said they did not find the government contract finder helpful.

Naureen Khan, director of public services at TechUK said: “It’s clear that changes must be made to develop simple and accessible procurement processes and our survey findings show that we need swift action to ensure the public sector benefits from harnessing the very best of UK tech.”

The government has recently made moves to improving the relationship between SMEs and public sector bodies, and in September launched a Supplier Standard that set out six principles for departments and companies to work together better.

The standard commits the government to ensuring that there is ongoing engagement between suppliers and government and that procurement processes are transparent, while suppliers must be ready to put user need first and respond quickly to changes in user need.

Minister for the Cabinet Office Ben Gummer reaffirmed the government’s commitment to raising SME engagement with procurement in response to the survey results, adding: “SMEs are a central part of the government’s efforts to improve innovation and modernise our public services so that they work for everyone.”

TechUK also reiterated its plans to work with the Government Digital Service, the Crown Commercial Service and the Cabinet Office to encourage more collaboration between smaller suppliers and civil servants.


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