Want big contracts, guaranteed payment for them within 30 days – often within just 10 – and the added bonus of having some of the most lauded names in the country on your client list? Of course you do. But many small business owners still shy away from trying out for public sector work. It’s no huge surprise – the tendering process is known chiefly for its complexity, expense and impenetrability. Not exactly a great advert for the smaller firms the government constantly assures us it is trying to attract.
But parliament has at least taken one very positive step towards opening up the process to less-than-multi-national firms this week. It’s made its public sector contract search portal www.supply2.gov.uk completely free to use – removing the previous charge of up to £180 per year. Which means that even if right now you have doubts about whether or not you could win government work, with the sector offering a total of £175bn worth of contracts, you’d be foolhardy not to even have a browse to see if there’s something there for your business.
The move to make the service free comes in response to last November’s Glover report on public procurement. It found the government was missing out on both savings and innovation by not attracting enough small businesses, and called for greater transparency and ease of use to help rectify the situation.
It’s been warmly welcomed by the Forum of Private Business (FPB), who have been lobbying relentlessly for the procurement process to be improved. FPB's Policy Representative Matt Goodman said: "Removing the cost barrier to accessing the supply2.gov.uk portal is a significant step towards improving access to public contracts and small businesses should register on the site without delay."
FPB adviser Tim Williams added, though, that small businesses should act now to capitalise on opportunities offered by the public sector. "Public spending levels are staying constant at the moment and some spending is being brought forward to boost the economy," he said. "There'll be cuts in future years though, so make hay while the sun shines."
While the removal of the subscription fee is a first incentive to begin your search for public sector work, the remainder of the procurement process is still complex, and you’ll require deep knowledge of how it works to be able to win contracts and beat larger, more experienced companies to them. (Just as an example, one small business owner we’ve spoken to says to win a contract you don’t just provide the number of case studies asked for in an application – you give ten times that amount.) But fear not – we’ve done all the research for you. Get all the insider tips and the really nitty-gritty need-to-know in our feature on how to win public sector work as a small business.