Reconsidering SMEs

14 February 2012
Increasingly, there is a move to ensure more small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are included in the supply chain, particularly within central and local government. Indeed, central government has committed to a target of 25 per cent of contracts going either direct or transparently indirectly to SMEs by 2015. As far as local authorities are concerned, the arguments for using local suppliers and keeping money within the local community are so strong one would hope that figure would be considerably higher given 99.9 per cent of businesses are SMEs. Do most procurement departments really consider the DNA of the SMEs they might want to deal with: the unique characteristics of those small, innovative, entrepreneurial businesses? In most instances the answer is a resounding “no”. Some of these very small firms provide excellent goods and services. So why, I wonder, do tender processes, particularly those under OJEU, remain so complicated and inappropriate? Does it make sense to ask a company of, say, six graphic designers/web developers to complete a 60-page PQQ requiring them to have ISO 9001 certification and asking what their biodiversity policy is? Does that sound a bit extreme? It is, but it happens. I’m not one for the dreaded acronyms, but there are two we use when training consultants to be able to undertake The Responsible Business Standard. We insist that they take KATE (knowledge, attitude, training and experience) with them on every audit and remind them that KATE likes ASTI (appropriate, size, type and impact). In other words, we don’t audit to a specific benchmark, but to what is appropriate for each company. For a small business, the cost and time commitments of attaining certifications such as ISO 9001 are far too onerous: they do not have the resources available. Consider this: is it better that a company has systems and processes that are used and understood by all, even if not in writing or to some specified format, than a filing system full of perfect documentation that no-one ever uses? Of course it is excellent if businesses do have some form of certification, which is why we designed The Responsible Business Standard specifically for smaller businesses, but if there is a genuine desire to use more SMEs, this continual demand for policies, documentation and certification that do not meet the ‘ASTI’ test must be addressed. ☛ Have a rant. Something you want to get off your chest? 
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