engage magazine issue 004 \'07 - Page 18

18 OPINION Current Debates of the SBS does not appear to give any particular priority to issues related to SME access to public procurement. Moreover, whilst the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) remains the lead on public procurement policy, it is unclear how they are going to promote the SME agenda now. Similarly, the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) leads on procurement in the local government sector (assisted by the Regional Centres of Excellence) but it lacks any precision or concrete polices on how the ‘Think Small First’ agenda will be promoted have reached a hiatus. Although South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) have agreed to co-ordinate a best practice group and to continue as lead Regional Development Agency (RDA) on procurement, few concrete measures on how the individual RDAs are taking this agenda forward can be identified. But there are some encouraging activities that will help promote the ‘Think Small First’ agenda. For example, online training for SMEs on winning public sector contracts especially designed to help small businesses develop the skills and knowledge needed to win public for Local Authority contracts. Moreover, the National Health Service continues to champion SMEs through its work on procurement and commissioning in the Mosaic project. In addition, there remain opportunities to develop the role of third sector groups through local compacts and, in part, championed by the Office of the Third Sector. And, naturally, the 2012 Olympics may be encouraged to open up some supply chain opportunities – not least through their own supplier database and registration system. In fact, there is still an opportunity to encourage the OGC and departments and agencies involved in From a public procurement point of view, then, the ‘Think Small First’ (or supplier diversity) agenda is seemingly at a critical juncture. The DTI will still be responsible for the Supply2.gov site, and the main contractor - Business Information Publication solutions – remains responsible for its delivery. And whilst the site was designed to be self-funding after its first year, without the direct influence of government there are understandable concerns about its impartiality and how it will promote the use of SMEs in public procurement. Moreover, on-going training and business support to SMEs appears to sector contracts has been developed by LearnDirect (UfI) and will sit on their site with links to Business Link and Supply2. gov. Furthermore, the Small Business Friendly Concordat - drawn up by the Local Government Association, the SBS and the then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister – still has relevance as a voluntary, nonstatutory code of practice setting out what small firms and others supplying Local Government can expect when tendering the procurement processes for the 2012 Olympics to become examples of good practice in public procurement, including access to opportunities in the supply chain for SMEs. From a public procurement point of view, then, the ‘Think Small First’ (or supplier diversity) agenda is seemingly at a critical juncture. Whether it is able to recapture the interest of government – or the wider political arena – remains to be seen; the current Comprehensive Spending Review may provide some pointers to where this agenda is going. But clearly some of the early impetus has been lost, and clarity and direction in this agenda is now required in order for SMEs to help contribute to a more effective and innovative system for (public and private) procurement. Dr Kemal Ahson is the Managing Consultant of Lifeworld Ltd. For further information about economic development, supplier diversity and procurement he can be contacted on 020 7937 0919 or kemal@lifeworld.info