Tim Ward, CEO at Opportuni

With the Queen’s announcement last week that a new Procurement Bill is to be introduced in the next session of UK Parliament, public sector contract specialist and Opportuni CEO, Tim Ward, talks us through what this really means for SMEs across the UK.

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.

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 three, namely:

  1. the ‘competitive flexible’ procedure
  2. the open procedure
  3. the negotiated procedure, renaming it the ‘limited tendering procedure’

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.”

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 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; increasing opportunities for SMEs and social enterprises to win Government contracts by demonstrating the full extent of the value they would generate and broadening the positive impact to the wider community.”

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 exits 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 in an effort to minimise bureaucracy, cut red tape and realise wider social benefits from the public purse.

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 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.”

With responsibility for the monitoring and actioning of “systemic gaps in commercial capability and understanding”, as well as timely intervention through evolved “powers to issue improvement notices with recommendations to drive up standards in individual contracting authorities”, the new unit represents a simplified, faster and more accessible process which places value for money and community paybacks at its centre.

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[1] 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.”

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[1] Transforming public procurement green paper, Presented to Parliament by the Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office by Command of Her Majesty, December 2020.