What government is doing to meet its SME targets
The government set an ambitious target that 33% of Central Government procurement spend will go to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by 2022.
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Already established as an Open Source consultancy since 2007, the 2010 Coalition government’s agenda to push open source software, SME suppliers, cloud first and digitalisation (with the ambitious launch of GDS) created a serendipitous environment for SMEs like Zaizi. Since 2010 we have seen our business naturally shift to Central Government as it embarks on its drive to innovate through collaboration with SMEs.
Before 2010, access to the central government ICT market was challenging for businesses like us. A procurement domain that was dominated by huge monolithic contracts let to a small set of large, often global suppliers, created an opaque shop window to the central government market.
The oligopoly cultivated a lack of competition and higher costs. Innovation suffered due to the lack of new ideas being introduced to the market. There is positive disruption when SMEs enter the market; often providing cheaper, faster, and more innovative solutions.
The Cabinet Office has made great strides in recent years to address some of these issues — and there has been real change.
Government frameworks are agreements between the government and suppliers. G-cloud led the way, now in iteration 10. However, frameworks such as Digital Outcomes and Specialists have really opened up Central Government, creating three key things:
- Visibility of the type of work departments and agencies are looking to do, just through being able to see the requirements across government.
- Enabling us to bid on an even playing field with the more traditional providers. We have three multi-million pound contracts through the framework in the past two years, projects that would have been invisible to us before.
- Get feedback; if unsuccessful with a bid, suppliers get feedback if they ask. When we have asked for feedback, it has been constructive and has made us better.
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The Government Digital Service (GDS) has led the way in setting the agenda for digitalised government services (digital by default). As a champion of open source technologies, cloud and agile practices it has opened the door for all the things we have felt passionate about and aspects of delivery SMEs can truly excel and innovate in.
You only have to look at the thousands of small businesses looking to work with the public sector to gauge the scale of the opportunity here.
The work by Cabinet Office post-2010 has been good but today’s challenge is to keep that reform progressing and not let it slowly wither away.
More rigour around procurement, proactive engagement and better comms will allow government to open new ways of working with SMEs rather than fall back on the usual oligopoly.