EU should fund SME training for purchasers

14 December 2011

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14 December 2011 | Adam Leach

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) is calling for EU funding to improve buyer’s knowledge and understanding of the voluntary and SME sectors.

Responding to the European Parliament’s report on modernising public procurement, the NCVO welcomed the finding that public contracts should be more accessible to SMEs. However, it concluded that in order to maximise the impact of any changes, purchasers should be trained to enable them to understand the breadth of opportunities provided by voluntary organisations.

In October, MEPs voted in favour of a paper that called for simplified and more flexible procurement rules to be implemented. One of the main aims of the reforms is to make public contracts more accessible to SMEs.

The NCVO report recommended that in pursuit of this, the EU should: “Provide dedicated funding for training on the operations and capabilities of SMEs and non-profit providers at EU and national levels, for commissioners and procurement officers to better understand sectors and their suitability for contract awards.”

In addition it called for administrative and accounting obligations on SMEs to be eased in recognition of the reduced resources and spare capacity companies in the sector have compared with large companies. The NCVO, which represents voluntary and not-for-profit organisations in England, made the recommendation, in part, after members reported problems in gaining access to the preferred provider list (PPL).

It argued that the PPL was a good example of “rigid and often inaccessible” frameworks used in the UK as the lengthy application process, a lack of advertising of contracts and the resources required to join it placed an overly burdensome demand on SMEs, with no guarantee of seeing the benefits.

The call for greater engagement between buyers and the SME marketplaces echoes an announcement last month by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude who said buyers needed to spend more time familiarising themselves with what the market had to offer before inviting tenders. “Before procurement should come commissioning – scanning the market to see what suppliers there are and what they can offer,” he said. “In future, major procurements should only take place after we have spoken informally to our potential suppliers. So we can make swift off-the-shelf purchases where appropriate or quickly choose the right supplier for the job.”

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