David Cameron tells buyers: 'I will stand by you if you take risks'

14 February 2011
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14 February 2011 | Rebecca Ellinor

Prime Minister David Cameron said he will support central government purchasers who take a chance on smaller suppliers.

At a strategic supplier summit, held at HM Treasury offices on Friday, Cameron told an audience of buyers, small businesses and charity representatives that he wanted to make government buying more transparent and competitive.

He wants to boost the amount of government work awarded to small and medium-sized enterprises from around 5 per cent to 25 per cent and to do that, he said, it needed to overhaul the way it does business.

Key announcements included the launch of ‘contractsfinder’, the place to find public sector contracting opportunities over £10,000 online; the appointment of Stephen Allott as a new crown commercial representative who will be a link between government and smaller suppliers; simplification of the pre-qualification process; and SME product and service innovation surgeries that will act like a Dragons' Den for government.

In encouraging purchasers to look beyond the big suppliers, Cameron said: “I understand your concerns. In the private sector there’s an old adage that no-one ever got fired for hiring IBM. When I was in the private sector I was responsible for contracting for a business I was working for and sometimes the big option seems like the safe option.

“But I want you to feel empowered and to know that as long as you follow the right channels I will stand by you if you take risks with young, new, dynamic companies. I want you to really feel you are playing your part in helping to turn the country around - in cutting the deficit, in boosting enterprise and growth, and in building the big society.”

In return he asked for a commitment from procurement managers that they would open up opportunities to new providers including SMEs and voluntary organisations.

In addition to measures to help SMEs win more business, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude announced the launch of an interchange programme between the private and public sector to improve the capability of buyers. The first phase will see secondees from some of the government’s biggest suppliers join its procurement teams. Following this, civil servants will get the opportunity to do placements in the commercial world.

“These package of measures will only work if procurers are up to the job. To make them less risk averse we need to learn from the best of private sector practice.”

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