Use procurement to lead public sector innovation, says techUK

The UK government must engage more with SMEs in the tech sector to achieve its planned digital transformation to improve public services,  according to IT industry association techUK.

Although the government spent more than £12.2bn with SMEs in 2015/16 and thousands more had signed up to sell their services to government last year, it still needed to do more to reach its aspiration of spending one pound in every three with SMEs by 2022, techUK said in its report on technology procurement.

The report, Procuring the Smarter State: key steps to promote innovation and growth in the public sector, found that even though public sector software and ITC (information and communications technology) are forecast to be worth £11.9bn in 2019, there is no reference in the Government Transformation Strategy (GTS) to how it will engage with the industry to manage the transition.

The GTS sets out how the government will harness digital technologies, skills and tool to transform and improve online public services.

Major IT contracts worth £3.8bn were approaching their expiry, said the report, and government departments would need to work more closely with SMEs and start-ups as well as the big system integrators.

The government needed to use procurement as a tool to deliver its vision of transformation and innovation, said Rob Driver, head of public sector at techUK.

“The message of this report is simple,” said Rob Driver, head of public sector of techUK. “For the government to deliver its transformation and growth commitments, it must make a step change in procurement in central government and the wider public sector.”

The report set out key recommendations for the government to build its “Smarter State”.

Each central UK government department should have a minister with responsibility over technology and digital strategy, who would be expected to focus on increasing the role of SMEs and promoting the use of the Contracts Finder website to advertise opportunities, it suggested.

It also called for clear guidance from Crown Commercial Services (CCS), the procurement arm of the government, on ICT procurement, more training in the area and the creation of a forum to capture supplier feedback on relevant issues.

It urged the government to step up its use of the Digital Marketplace as part of efforts to use procurement as a tool for delivering transformation and said this move could support innovation in the technology sector and provide more options for public authorities.

Recommended measures to increase use of the Digital Marketplace include: the Cabinet Office spreading the message across government and making it easier to do business with the CCS; metro mayors and chief digital officers in the new city regions championing smarter procurement: and increasing the number of non-Whitehall bodies – especially local authorise and government agencies – that use the Digital Marketplace.

Another section of the report highlighted the need for a strategic and innovative approach to market engagement and urged central government to be more proactive in reaching suppliers.

For this, it recommended that techUK and the Cabinet Office work closely to provide example of good market engagement that has helped to deliver innovation and growth and to emphasise the potential benefits of working with SMEs. 

Responding to the report, Niall Quinn, procurement director for technology at CCS, said the CCS would support the recommendations set out in the report.

“The UK benefits from one of the most vibrant and thriving tech ecosystems globally and the experience and innovation of the UK’s tech industry is a valuable resource for the public sector,” he said

“As such, this is an important report that should be considered as a platform for the whole of the public sector to engage with current and prospective ITC suppliers.”

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