The procurement process is in desperate need of an overhaul. If it is to remain – and SMEs are to remain competitive – it has to be simplified.
Why does this idea matter?
I run a small business and over 90% of my clients are public sector. In the 'good old days' you could pitch for work through face to face presentations and demonstrate your competitiveness, professionalism and overall efficiency by fielding real questions from real human beings.
These days (as all of you with public sector clients will attest) it's virtually impossible to secure even medium value contracts without going through the nightmare of procurement. Contacts are now won or lost without ever having contact with another soul.
While all sensible business people understand the need to check the credentials of a new private sector supplier, the level of superfluous detail and obsessive attention to political correctness demanded by the client is enough to make even the most patient SME pack up and go home.
Firms are rated not just on cost, business efficacy or testimonials (which is how it's still done in a private sector 'real world' environment), but on their ethnic mix, ratio of males to females and on-going efforts to curb global warming. Then there's Investors in People, health and safety updates and a whole raft of pointless (and expensive) ISO regulations.
As if this wasn't difficult enough to manage, each potential public sector client has a different bespoke procurement process with weightings determined by the authority's prevailing political view.
And it doesn't end there. One document I recently completed asked what efforts I had made to take on unqualified workers, then – in a separate section – wanted to know whether my existing workforce was qualified and experienced enough to take on the contract!
This is a nonsense and I know of good quality businesses which are on the brink of bankruptcy as a result. It's no good blaming the EU for all this. It has to stop and it has to stop now.
If procurement is here to stay then it has to be simplified under one approved, unified document. As a start:-
1) Acknowledge that SMEs are already struggling to stay in business without having to devote meagre resources and valuable man hours to pointless bureaucracy and red tape.
2) Restrict procurement questions to overall business efficiency, competitiveness and experience. Anything else is superfluous.
3) More importantly, end the madness of bespoke procurement documents and introduce ONE comprehensive document across the whole of the sector which answers all reasonable questions in one hit. This might be time-consuming for the applicant the first time, but thereafter the document need only be photocopied and updated where applicable.
None of this is rocket science. But it could mean the difference between survival or extinction for many profitable, hard working firms.
I would be grateful if you could confirm you have received my complaint and will act on it. Will you, for example, raise my concerns directly with the new Local Government Minister, Eric Pickles, with a view to issuing local authorities with an instruction to simplify the procedures and, if so, when will you do this?