Government move points to more open procurement

The Government’s decision to scrap the charge for online public contract portal is being hailed as the first step towards a more free and open public procurement system.

Earlier this month the fee was dropped on searching for contracts worth under £100 000. This had previously cost businesses approximately £99-£180 a year. This may not seem much, but for business representation body the Forum of Private Business the decision is an important move towards allowing small businesses, including design groups, free and easy access to public contracts.

According to the FPB, the move is the first concrete policy change to stem from the October 2008 Glover Review, led by Anne Glover, which was commissioned by the Government to see what could be done to make it easier for SMEs to supply to the public sector. Among the recommendations made in the report were that all tender documents should be issued electronically by 2010, with those thought to be particularly suitable for SMEs flagged up. It also called for standardisation of qualification criteria across Government departments, and for all departments to report annually on how much work they are giving to SMEs.

The Glover Review called for most of these recommendations to come into force by the start of 2010, but so far, freeing up lower-value contracts on is the only policy change to have come into force. ‘It now looks like things will be wrapped up with the Glover Review towards the middle-to-end of next year,’ says Matthew Goodman, the FPB’s policy representative.

Goodman says, ‘What we ultimately want is full transparency and openness of public-sector contracts. It is key to make Government behave like a private business, and shop in the same way that a business would shop. We want a situation where they are finding the best provider, rather than just turning to the one they know.’

Goodman says the FPB also wants to stamp out practices such as ‘bundling’, where a group of contracts is given out in one package to a private project manager, who then divvies up the remaining sub-contracts in a non-public manner. ‘We want to make sure all the information is out there,’ Goodman says.

Tim Williams, managing director of procurement systems provider Millstream and the FPB’s advisor on public-sector tendering, highlights two key issues that need to be addressed to make the tender system more efficient.

The first is standardising pre-qualification information, as highlighted in the Glover Review. Goodman agrees, saying, ‘If you’re going to have to fill out 90 pages of a PQQ document at least make it worth something.’

The second is that Government procurement staff should be better educated. Williams says, ‘There are major gaps in knowledge which result in ultra-conservative behaviour. While some public procurement staff are excellent, there are many who do not have the necessary skills, experience or knowledge.’

Neither Goodman nor Williams go as far as agreeing with ideas mooted by Associate Parliamentary Group for Design and Innovation research, previously reported in Design Week, that the current tender process could be dismantled and a situation imposed where Government departments approach consultancies directly.
‘My personal view is that this would be a disaster,’ says Williams. ‘It is difficult enough for suppliers to identify potential opportunities when there is a requirement to publish them. Take this requirement away and it would be who knows whom, rather than any meritocratic system of awarding contracts.’

FPB advice on winning public contracts:

  • Source reliable information on available contracts from portals such as
  • Fill out forms accurately, including PQQs. A sample PQQ can be found at http///
  • Try to build a relationship with the buyer. It may help to aim for smaller contracts first to build up contacts

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  • Lloyd Sewell November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am


    A recent Parliamentary report shows that small businesses are still finding difficult to bid for public sector contracts, despite Government policies and attempts to intervene. The report, released by the House of Commons All Party Parliamentary Small Business Group (APPSBG), recommends that many barriers still need to be removed to help SME’s win public sector contracts.(Ref. Source: Contract Eye (

    A major problem is not that public sector agencies are not preparing the pathways so that SME’s find the process of tendering a lot easier – a recent survey conducted in the London area by Business Junction concluded that most SME’s do not tender for public sector contracts – their perception is that they will be unsuccessful and their time and resources would be better spent on pursuing activities which are less demanding and whose outcome is more within their grasp. (Ref: London SME Survey conducted by Business Junction – March-2009)

    Other major factors include the level of audit that public sector agencies have to undergo and the frequency of these audits, which SME’s might not be aware of.

    Public sector agencies inadvertently award contracts to suppliers who take the time to get into system and find out how it works and (in most cases) provide goods/services/supplies that are of the required standard at the right price and at the right time and by so doing provide added value.

    At the same time that public sector agencies are preparing to make the system more attractive (for use of a better word) SME’s also should show some commitment to take part in the system – by finding out ‘how the system of public procurement operates, it is of no use that SME’s complain on the difficulties of entry and subsequent success – while at the same time giving excuses as to why they do not take part.

    Among the reasons for the audit is that – it is public money (collected in taxes – from the same SME’s that do not take part) – that is being spent, these SME’s fail to realise that the UK is part of the EU and that SME’s in any part of the EU has the same right to submit a tender in response to an invitation to tender, just the same way as UK SME’s.

    If public sector agencies spent a lot of their time sorting out unsuitable tenders there would be an outcry on how much time and money is wasted on such a process from these same SME’s.

    SME’s have a duty to find out ‘how the system works and what is required to satisfy the requirements of the system’, it is not a sustainable position to imagine that the government will somehow wave away EU or their own policy directives just because some SME’s say ‘I am not interested, it is too difficult and anyway I might not win the contract’.

    Another point is that even if SME’s were given the 30% of public sector contracts as indicated by various reports it is not certain that they would flock to take part and in some cases – not all SME’s would be capable of fulfilling the requirements of these contracts – all SME’s need to be encouraged to allocate some time for personal training and personal and business development, which not only improve their chances of success but also other areas of their business activities – unfortunately training has been traditionally a sore point with most SME’s.

    There is a process in all things and success only comes if and when you are fully prepared and competent enough to take part in the process, it is time for SME’s to stop complaining and make the effort to fully understand the system, surely it cannot be just the government who has a responsibility in this area of the public procurement.


    Lloyd Sewell

    Lloyd Sewell
    Tendering for Contracts Training
    Tel: 01483 267098
    You may listen our training presentation here:
    You may down my free flash sample (PQQ) from here:

    (PS) You are free to make use of this article in full – under normal copyright rules.


    Lloyd Sewell started in business (1988), as an importer of golf equipment while living in South Limburg, Holland. He has both UK and European business experience, expertise in developing and providing training and advice to individuals and small businesses, counselling for new business start-up, and providing training on (IT for business), bookkeeping and accounting systems. Other past activities include, treasurer of Thames Valley Small Business Club, member of a local action group, member of executive action program, instrumental providing assistance in the planning and successful delivery of the first Black Lawyers Conference in London in year 2000
    Tendering for Contracts Training started providing business development training in 1997 as “Centre for Business Excellence Ltd”, We conducted a research project to determine the specialist training needs of small firms and subsequently developed the “Tendering for Contracts Training Programme”.
    The pilot programmes was delivered in the form of a series of one-day workshops between “2000 and 2002”, the aims, objectives and outcomes were designed to empower the small to medium enterprise in all areas of the contract and tendering process, the project was successfully delivered to delegates from all over the UK in South West London, and was fully supported by Business Link and a London Local Authority.
    In 2005, our company name was changed to “Tendering for Contracts Training Ltd” to better reflect our core activity. The company has maintained its status as an Associate Member of the Institute of Business Consulting. Articles published includes; “Creating A Level Playing Field in EU Public Sector Tendering” – published by -(ECSB) the “European Council for Small Business and Entrepreneurship” .
    Tendering for Contracts Training provide online training, mentoring and support programme for firms who wish to win new business through tendering for public or private sector contracts, We provide a complete programme of assistance and support for SME’s, for more information, Click Here >>>>: – Tendering for Contracts Training Programme.
    You may contact us here:
    Tel: 01483 267098 / 07866 607197

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