engage magazine issue 004 \'07 - Page 17

OPINION 17 Current Debates Where’s the ‘Think Small First’ agenda gone? T here is some sense that using small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to deliver goods and services in the public sector brings innovation and ‘best value’. Moreover, by encouraging the use of SMEs in public procurement, there is some evidence to suggest that wider socio-economic benefits can accrue. In May 2003 the Better Regulation Task Force (BRTF) and Small Business Council (SBC) published a report ‘Government, Supporter and Customer’, which detailed many barriers facing SMEs when seeking to trade with local and central government. Consequently the Small Business Service (SBS), an agency of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), commissioned two SME Procurement Pilot projects (Haringey and West Midlands) to address many of the recommendations in the BRTF’s reports, especially in relation to researching existing good practice within purchasing organisations in opening up supply chains to SMEs. Put differently, these pilots sought to identify and assess the viability of a ‘Think Small First’ approach in public procurement. From the evaluation of these pilots a number of key recommendations were made in relation to reforming public procurement. One of the key features of this work centred on the use of electronic procurement (hereafter eProcurement). Such techniques help to increase competition and st reamline public procurement in terms of savings and money which their use allows. In the European Union (EU) contracting authorities can make use of eProcurement providing they comply with rules under the EU Procurement Directive and the EU Treaty principles of equal treatment, nondiscrimination and transparency. Moreover, it makes it easier to identify contract opportunities and to supply goods and services across (national) borders; in other words, they should open up access to a diverse range of suppliers. The link between the ‘Think Small First’ The ‘Think Small First’ approach in public procurement gained credibility over the last few years. Estimates of the size of the public procurement market vary – some sources put the annual value of public sector contracts placed at over £100 billion. Dr Kemal Ahson agenda and eProcurement crystallised with the creation of the Supply2.gov. uk portal by the DTI – the first port of call to consolidate access to lower-value opportunities from across the whole of the UK public sector. Supply2.gov.uk aims to open up the public procurement market to all types of business including SMEs, start-up companies and social enterprises to search and view open lower-value contract opportunities (typically under £100,000). It also offers public sector buyers the opportunity to post their lowervalue contract opportunities and access profiles of pre-qualification information created by suppliers registering on the site. In short, the site aims to provide an easy-to-use portal uniting buyers and suppliers in a single location. But the public procurement and SME issue now seems to have fallen down the government’s (political) agenda. For instance, the business simplification process and subsequent streamlining ISSUE FOUR 2007 engage | uk