28 October 2014

It was back in the 1970s that the European Commission began urging Member States to promote competitiveness and growth by widening access to the billions of pounds spent every year by the public sector.

Since then the contracts offered through the public procurement process have been seen as a way of improving the environment and the labour market, to name just two of the conditions that can be part of the tendering process.

Now the UK Government is consulting on a new power that it wants to add to the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment (SBEE) Bill in order to help small businesses gain better access to these contract opportunities.

In a consultation (http://bit.ly/1nqmyZD) open until 13 November, it has invited the views of buyers, suppliers and others interested in procurement.

The proposed enabling power would allow the Government to introduce a range of measures to make procurement simpler and reduce barriers to taking part. Measures would be introduced through secondary legislation at a future date and would impose duties on procuring authorities.

The Government is particularly interested in how such authorities could be required to: run an efficient and timely procurement process; make available, free of charge, information or documents, or processes necessary for any potential supplier to bid for a contract opportunity; and accept electronic invoices.

Worth £230 billion a year, public sector procurement has the potential to create significant business and growth opportunities through increased participation for SMEs, as well as improving the public sector’s access to their creativity and innovation.

Although a potentially important source of contracts, small businesses often find bidding for public sector work bureaucratic, time-consuming and expensive.

In recent years, progress has been made in opening up the procurement process to SMEs, with reforms aiming to ensure that: all procurement opportunities are advertised in one place; burdensome Pre-Qualification Questionnaires (PQQs) for lower value procurements are removed; and suppliers are paid promptly.

The Government believes that this latest initiative will build on those reforms.

From Paul Clarke, business writer for Croner