Monthly Archives: February 2011

Will small businesses ever get a slice of government spending?

Government helping small businessA few days ago the office of the Prime Minister sent a letter to many small businesses and SME organisations explaining that a new online tool called Contracts Finder has been launched that will show all government tender opportunities.

At the same time he said they would eliminate the prequalification questionnaire (PQQ) for low value orders and standardise it so it was filled in just once for all other procurements.

Additionally there would be “Dragons Den” type surgeries where people with innovative products and services will be able to come and pitch to government – rather than waiting for the right tender to be issued.

All good news generally. For years the conditions set by procurements have excluded, or been unfairly weighed against smaller businesses applying for tenders. The cost of doing so is also proportionally higher for a small company than a large one.

Some people have commented that they are worried that eliminating the PQQ will create a “free for all” and that companies that stood no chance would waste their time bidding.

Well in an open market that can happen, but if in fact getting rid of the PQQ doesn’t change at all the size of company winning a tender, what was the point? There probably is still a culture in government procurement that only larger companies should win and just getting rid of prequalifying is not enough, attitudes must also change. I’ll wait and see on this one.

However, the Contracts Finder could be very good news indeed. There are some government tender sites out there (a couple charge for their use), but having one simple and easy to use central site for all tenders is a godsend. Much saving of time and hopefully it will make sure we don’t miss any relevant opportunities ever again.

Now on to the “Dragons Den” surgeries. They are not quite as the description implies, because you are not pitching for investment or funds, but for the chance to sell your innovative product or service.

The surgeries are going to be managed by Stephen Allott as a new Crown Commercial Representative (CCR) for SMEs. You will pitch to “a panel of senior procurement and operational professionals from central government and the wider public sector”.

I like this idea a lot, but the proof will be how many get taken up and what hoops they will have to jump through.

In the early days of Company Partners I approached a government figure to offer our business partner matching service to assist people who wanted to start a business. You would think that encouraging new start-ups by finding them a like minded partner to start up with was an obvious benefit to the economy.

The feedback was positive, but I would have to talk to the regional development agency, they in turn insisted I talk to a local Business Link and so it died. They also wanted me to trial it locally for 2 years and if it was successful they would put it out to tender.

Herein lays a problem. If at one of these surgeries, a young company puts forward an innovative idea for a service, will the government support them and place an order, or will there be endless jumping through hoops, or worse (in order of course to be fair and impartial) they put the service suggested up to open tender, effectively stealing the small company’s idea and giving it to someone else?

There is optimism for the general direction that the government is going on this, but let’s see if it actually produces a change.