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Government business opened up to SME’s – or is it?

The Business to Business website reported today the apparent good news that government intends to accelerate the opening-up of it’s business opportunities to small and medium enterprises.

Now, we’ve highlighted before that there is a fairly sizeable gap between the espoused theory of openness to competition and the actual theory in use, i.e.the much harsher reality, of Messrs Maude and Whatmore (Maude’s senior civil servant). One example must be that so many so-called open opportunities to tender are in fact provided to aggregating websites who charge hundreds and thousands of pounds for SME’s to access even the most rudimentary of tender information. If a company wishes to have access to these public sector opportunities across all of the regions and across the professions, the annual bill for signing-up with these aggregator sites can run into four figures quite easily.

The issue is not one of affordability but the ethical position of a government professing to be opening up its business to small business when at the same time creating barriers to the most basic of information to access those opportunities. Oh, and one more thing – I understand that it is not apocryphal that the big four consultancies have all in the recent past bid £1 for a piece of government work that was worth several millions, i.e. they ‘bought’ it. Just how can SME’s compete with that degree of…’rigging’, or is that too strong a word?

Here’s what BtB said “Cabinet Office Secretary Francis Maude is to announce plans to put over £50bn worth of public works and services tenders online. This will be a major shake up of central government procurement. The idea is to make it easier and faster to bid for government work, especially for smaller companies who often lose out when pitching for public projects. Government departments will be instructed to break contracts into bite-sized chunks to make it easier for small and medium-sized enterprises to get involved. The initial work going online will relate to IT and facilities management, with building and infrastructure projects going online from April 2012. These changes will simplify the process for SMEs and make it 40% faster to do business with the Government.”

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Steve Lorraine