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February 18, 2011

Public sector contracts site to boost number of small-business suppliers

A new website simplifying public sector tender opportunities for small firms has been launched by the Government, writes Clare Bullock.

Contracts Finder will bring all government contracts worth more than £10,000 onto one website. The site also simplifies the application process for businesses by removing the need to complete a Pre–Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ).

The site has been launched alongside a commitment by the Government that a quarter of public sector contracts will go to small businesses. The existing website will be taken down at the end of March.

“One of the things that will help make a difference is if [the new site] is fully embraced by local government, because a lot of small businesses around the country won’t just supply central government,” said the Federation of Small Businesses press officer, Sara Lee.

“Removing the PQQ for contracts below £100,000 will help as long as this doesn’t mean that a new, equally difficult process is brought in,” she added. “Our main issue has been the amount of red tape involved in getting the contracts.”

Business development director, Gilbert Hill, of small business Governor Technology said: “We win significant amounts of work from the private sector and have pitched for around 20 public sector contracts in the last 18 months. For the vast majority of those, we didn’t make it past the PQQ stage, despite high scores.

“Currently we’re registered with 15 different portals – it’s a huge amount of work to keep up with all the opportunities on those,” he added. “It’s a Kafkaesque nightmare.”

Hill welcomed the changes, but said there was still some way to go. “There is a culture of ‘unless you’ve done work for us before, don’t bother applying’,” he said.

“The application process weights the game towards the big players,” added Hill. “Our private sector clients are very big and have a lot of choice, but they still come to us. There seems to be no opportunity to build up those relationships in the public sector.”