'Outdated' government purchasing still blocking SMEs

16 April 2009

17 April 2009 | Jake Kanter

"Complex, costly and outdated" procurement processes make it difficult for small suppliers to bid for public contracts, according to the All Party Parliamentary Small Business Group (APPSBG) and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.

The Report on SME Access to Public Procurement published yesterday said obstacles must be removed to give SMEs a fairer chance of winning government deals and urged public bodies to set specific targets for awarding contracts to small suppliers.

The study follows last year's government-commissioned Glover Review, which found small vendors faced "significant" barriers when competing for public sector work (News, 11 December 2008). That report issued a raft of recommendations including reducing the number of websites advertising contracts and holding more 'meet the buyer' events for suppliers.

But Andy Love MP, chairman of the APPSBG, said the Glover Review proposals could have gone further.

The report said small suppliers have to tackle "opaque" purchasing processes and difficult to find contract notices. It said tendering costs are also "disproportionately" high for small businesses and public sector buyers are "reluctant" to establish relationships with new vendors.

Language used in paperwork throughout the purchasing process should be simplified, it said. In addition, tenders must be advertised more widely, should be cheaper to access, and vendors should be given clearer legal advice.

In response to the report, David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said it was important to open up public contracts because the revenue from government work could be crucial for SMEs during the recession.

"It is essential the tendering process is made simpler and more cost-effective to enable greater SME access to the £175 billion of public money available."

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