Government remains firm on SME spend target

Figures released in October 2017 reveal that central government departments spent a record £12 billion with small businesses in 2015/16 – the highest level of spend to date. Emma Jones, SME Crown Representative, outlines the work underway to ensure this amount keeps rising

It’s welcome news that government reached a record high with SME spend last year and this shows no signs of abating. In the past 12 months in my role as SME Crown rep we’ve hosted regional events and online webinars, published guides and offered advice on contracts and early engagement; all with a view to ensure small businesses consider government as a customer, and that government buyers look at SMEs as new and reliable suppliers. In the next few months, this work continues.

We have a renewed focus on connecting small businesses with government’s largest suppliers and recently hosted a session to get under the skin of how we best make these connections so SMEs win government work, without being the lead bidder, and how the large contractors quickly identify a quality supply chain that can help them fulfil contracts.

In November, there’s a ‘Meet the Buyer’ event in Leeds; an opportunity for small businesses to hear direct from government buyers as to what they’re after, and an insight into future pipeline. We continue the programme of regular webinars where guests are government buyers or entrepreneurs who have successfully sold to the public sector, and small businesses, from anywhere, can tune in for free.

There’s activity underway to bolster Contractsfinder yet further; ensuring all central government contracts valued at over £10,000 are listed, but also now adding contracts from the large suppliers too, so this becomes the single place small businesses visit to identify relevant opportunities.

Plans for a new platform, the Crown Marketplace, are underway that will make it much easier for small businesses to create an online profile and come to the attention of buyers in the categories of common good and services. This builds on the strong track record of G-Cloud which, as of January 2017, reported 56 per cent of total sales by value and 64 per cent by volume, from all reported G-Cloud sales to date, had been awarded to SMEs.

Strides have been made on prompt payment, with government paying suppliers within a 30 day term and large companies increasingly signing up to the Prompt Payment code too. A Small Business Commissioner has been appointed to act as a first line of enquiry for small firms who are not being paid within these timeframes, with the commissioner having power to investigate and share good practice.

Top 100 SME Suppliers
Those who have been successful in winning contracts are recognised and celebrated in a Top 100 SME Suppliers list which shows that regardless of geographic location or sector, small businesses are winning all kinds of work from across government departments. Inzpire, Hugh Griffiths' East Midlands based company, is on the list, with the Ministry of Defence as a key customer.

On working with the public sector, Griffiths says: “Inzpire really values having the UK MoD as a major customer. We love the fact that our work is benefiting the UK’s Armed Forces. Government is an excellent customer and we are proud to make our contribution to the UK.”

Hugh is one of a team of 24 proven entrepreneurs who continue their work on the SME Panel, looking at all aspects of public sector procurement and suggesting revisions and consideration where they see fit. In the past 12 months the panel has looked at topics including dynamic purchasing platforms, supply chains, prompt payment and Contractsfinder.

Individual departments continue to focus attention on the SME agenda through SME champions who work on collating SME spend data, running supplier events, and connecting with SMEs through social media (such as the recently launched MoD twitter account for SME procurement) and promoting areas in which government is particularly looking for SME solutions such as the Joint Security and Resilience Centre (JSaRC), which has been established to help the government and UK security sector suppliers work more closely together.

Trade associations play an important role too. Tech UK hosts regular Dragons Den style events to connect their members with tech solutions, with buyers. The Business Services Association (BSA)
actively looks at connecting their members with SMEs, and access to government contracts is one of the key topic areas of research for the ScaleUp Institute.

Govstart
The past year has also seen the opening of GovStart; an accelerator focused on transforming public services through leveraging the innovation and solutions of small and ambitious tech companies. A cohort of companies including the likes of Adzuna and Rotageek benefit from access to mentors and experts who can help navigate the public sector procurement cycle.

I see growing appetite from SMEs to sell to government and the recent figures and Top 100 listing show they are succeeding in winning contracts. Challenges still remain, such as matching buyers with new innovations, connecting SMEs with tier one suppliers, and the terms of certain frameworks, but improvements are underway to create an environment that guarantees continued spend with the great small firms of Britain.

Further Information: 

Read more

Event Diary

London Calling! Register online for The HVAC & Refrigeration Show 2018

Taking place at London’s ExCeL, ecobuild is the number one event for forward thinkers in the built environment, comprising the ecobuild conference and futurebuild districts.

Hotelympia 2018 will equip visitors with products, trends and innovations to develop their businesses.