With the Queen’s announcement that a new Procurement Bill is to be introduced in the next session of UK Parliament, Teesside-based public sector contract specialist and Opportuni CEO, Tim Ward, talks us through what this really means for SMEs across the region and beyond.
Tim highlights the key elements of the proposed Procurement Bill by explaining what’s happened so far and explaining the simplified, fairer and more accessible opportunities open to small businesses, charities and social enterprises.
And with a particular focus on ensuring a fairer spread of contracts geographically, organisations across the North East stand a real chance of positioning themselves for these sizeable opportunities.
The story so far…
Public consultation on the green paper on procurement reform closed in March and whilst the government continues to analyse responses, it is expected that the new bill coming into play this September will streamline and simplify procurement regulations.
Tim comments: “Accessing contracts with local authorities and other public services has long presented sizeable challenges to small businesses and charities. Overhauling the system in a bid to improve services and opportunities available to businesses and people in communities feels like a natural progression, building on the more flexible and collaborative approach we have seen between local authorities and smaller businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The Queen outlined in her speech that the government’s legislative agenda would “simplify procurement in the public sector”, not only replacing the four different regulations covering public contracts, utilities, defence, and concessions with one “single, uniform framework”, but rationalising the seven current different procurement procedures down to just three.
Tim adds: “Consolidating the whopping 350 procurement regulations which are currently spread over different regimes into “a single uniform regime”, not only hugely simplifies an intensely complex process, the promise of greater transparency and a concerted effort to open up opportunities across the country increases accessibility for new entrants such as small businesses and charitable, voluntary and social enterprises to genuinely compete for and win public contracts.”
Fairer access to opportunities
The government has also stated its aim to promote social value and improve transparency in contracts.
“What this means,” states Tim, “is a commitment to looking past the price of an individual contract and instead looking at what the collective benefit to a community would be.
“In other words, by prioritising the consideration of social value when selecting suppliers, the government aims to drive economic growth at a more granular level, in regions and sub-regions across the UK, whilst creating jobs and driving skills development.”
Tim adds: “In this way, when a public body chooses to award a contract, part of the decision-making process will be focused on the transformational change each contract could bring to the successful bidder and the local area it exists within.”
Simplifying access to contracts
Among the proposals for the eagerly anticipated Procurement Bill and part of the government’s green paper on transforming public procurement after the UK exited the EU on 1 January 2021, is a new unit in the Cabinet Office to review and potentially intervene to progress the commercial capability of authorities issuing contracts.
This new government unit could:
- monitor and intervene in public buying
- minimise bureaucracy
- cut red tape
- realise wider social benefits from government contracts
Tim explains how these clearer regulations and more transparent framework is a welcome direction for small businesses: “The concept of winning a large contract with a local council, school or NHS trust often seems unachievable to a small to medium-sized business, who no doubt has been put off or overwhelmed by over-complicated terminology and regulatory speak.
“The reality is that these contracts are not only well within reach for many local SMEs, but what they represent is literally game changing for these small businesses. Simplifying the terminology and levelling the playing field to access such opportunities is a huge stride forward.”
Transforming a complex and outdated system
Lord Theodore Agnew, Cabinet Office minister, said: “The measures outlined will transform the current outdated system with new rules, providing flexibility to the public sector and less burden on business.
“These long-standing plans have been developed with international procurement specialists and will help unleash innovation across the country and provide a fairer system for small businesses.”
Tim adds: “In simpler terms, the proposals include a much-improved framework that would use a single set of rules for all contract awards.
“The modernised procedures open up opportunities for a more diverse supply base, making it easier for small businesses and charitable, voluntary and social enterprises to compete and win fruitful public contracts.”
Digitising supplier registration
Among the streamlined proposals is discussion around the establishment of a single digital platform for supplier registration – this carries the promise that an organisation would only need to submit their data once to qualify for any public sector procurement opportunity.
“Another welcome improvement.” states Tim. “Establishing a more flexible, accessible and centralised procurement system, opens up opportunities for innovative companies of all sizes to win business and improve public services across the country.”
Tim continues: “With particular relevance in this period of Covid-19 recovery, establishing a more open and accessible system that ensures a wider view of value for money and fair treatment of suppliers will underpin the UK’s economic recovery, whilst opening up public contracts to more small businesses and social enterprises.”
An opportune future
The UK spends some £290 billion on public procurement every year and the idea of widening opportunities for SMEs to benefit from these lucrative openings, re-energising supply chains and boosting the confidence of our very capable ecosystem of businesses across the UK.
Tim concludes: “The whole ethos of Opportuni centres around boosting small business growth – presenting organisations with opportunities by sourcing, reviewing and writing bids on public sector contracts that are genuinely within their reach.
“Businesses no longer need to be search experts or practiced bid writers to find success – let’s face it, despite the proposed radical modernisation of the government’s procurement system, it’s still pretty overwhelming for a first-time applicant from a small business to submit a public sector tender. And that’s where we come in – connecting business owners and managers with not just the relevant contracts, but with seasoned bid writers who know exactly how to succeed in this arena.”