The Government’s long awaited Green Paper update on Transforming Public Procurement was published on 6th December 2021. Tim Ward, CEO at OPPORTUNI, reflects on the latest government response to consultation with a keen eye on the real impact for SMEs across the country and the apparent promise of innovation and opportunities for all.
Tim is an instrumental leader in the Government’s levelling up agenda, supporting SMEs across the UK to access and win more public sector contracts through OPPORTUNI’s innovative tender-match service – the world’s only end-to-end solution that helps SMEs across all sectors source, bid and win public sector contracts.
The latest chapter in the reformation of public procurement has been released by central government this week, with a focus on transforming public procurement to evolve an outdated system and provide transparency, accountability and greater value for money for the public purse.
Having unpicked the latest iteration in the Government’s response to the much-needed reformation of its procurement processes, I’ve highlighted some key findings and unearthed further questions to clarify the Cabinet Office’s reshaping of one of the most critical legislative reforms this century.
Accountability is key
We are taking major steps to improve transparency in procurement, and it is promising to see more proactive steps being taken by the UK Government – particularly to address inadequate performance and failure to deliver.
The proposed new unit to oversee public procurement with new powers to review it, and intervene where necessary to reactively improve, is long overdue.
I have consistently and frustratingly witnessed the failure of privileged large corporates underdelivering on contracts and neglecting to prioritise VFM with little or no repercussions for these shortcomings.
I recognise that creating significant legislative change is no easy task, but one which is sorely needed to level the playing field. To see progress being made for the greater good of SMEs across the UK is very promising and aligns perfectly with our ambition here at OPPORTUNI to make contracts more accessible to thousands of small to medium sized businesses.
The Government’s response confirmed a commitment to a wider refresh of the legal framework for exclusions as well as a new simpler, clearer and more focused exclusions framework. The aims of this are to reduce the risk of barriers to effective competition for contracts, as well as increasing the reliable delivery of contracts and stakeholder protection to better secure public and business interests, ranging from environmental factors to public funds and matters of national security.
A core benefit for any organisation pursuing public sector bids is the prospect of secure, longer-term contracts with effective contract management and prompt payments. There is a key role here for central government and contracting authorities to address key issues, including tackling payment delays in public sector supply chains. There is recognition of these issues within the consultation response and in shaping the evolved public procurement process, I hope this is a key commitment to iron out for the benefit of hard-working suppliers.
Data driven decision making
Embedding transparency throughout the procurement life cycle – from the instigation of the tender process through to contract award, delivery and analysis of performance – is a huge stride forward in empowering public sector proposers and private sector deliverers to enjoy an open and honest dialogue.
The transparent publication of procurement data to allow any member of the public to see where money is being spent and across which range of services, paves the way to a legitimate levelling up exercise.
SMEs make up 99% of the UK’s business landscape and are quite literally the backbone of British industry. Simplifying bidding processes, creating clearer and more flexible rules as well as consideration for more localised social value factors is music to our ears here at OPPORTUNI as we continuously strive to ensure SMEs win the work they are worthy of.
There are very capable SMEs out there who would jump at having a genuine chance of winning profitable contracts andwould deliver excellence where larger organisations have all too often failed. Playing to the strengths of these great, ambitious British businesses will enable them to deliver across an array of tender opportunities, boosting their success, credibility and sustainability.
The collective voice of UK businesses
I was thrilled to read that of the 619 responses to the consultation, 43% (269 responses) were from industry with a strong representation from SMEs and VCSEs.
Currently, less than 1.5% of UK businesses have sight of government contracts, with even less moving forward to bid on them. From endless barriers that choke SMEs’ access, to thousands of dispersed procurement portals, the current landscape unfairly excludes SMEs from significant
contracts that could potentially change their business trajectory.
I noted the language used within the consultation response, which stated the need for “behavioural change”, acknowledging that the implementation of a new regime will go beyond knowledge transfer and process change, and will require the need to raise the capability and capacity of contracting authorities to realise the benefits for all.
“Procurement that better meets the UK’s needs” is the title of the first chapter of the Government’s response, setting the scene from the get-go for open and fair progress to evolve the proposed legal principles of public procurement.
The response to the Green Paper has shown strong support for transparency and clarity, both in intent and objectives for each contract opportunity, and more explicit publication obligations for contracting authorities to ensure each stage of the procurement process is accessible and non-discriminatory.
There is a definite undertone that implies efforts are being made and consideration is in place at each stage of the process and associated legislative adjustments to ‘level the playing field’. This fairer treatment of suppliers is a welcome move and one which we have tirelessly lobbied for over many years at OPPORTUNI. This will manifest in the consequent Bill in numerous ways, including the defined principle of “Fair treatment of suppliers” covering both the equal treatment of suppliers and procedural fairness during procurement procedures, and the introduction of an additional “objective” as part of a wider set of statutory objectives promoting the importance of open and fair competition.
A clear framework which streamlines processes and identifies opportunities by fostering more effective innovation in procurement has received an overwhelmingly positive response.
Shaping the future of a system which accounts for around a third of all public expenditure every year at £300 billion, is a complex endeavour, not least when this sizeable total represents game-changing contracts and sustainable futures for businesses across the UK.
As CEO of a tech start-up, I am fully entrenched in language such as innovation, digitisation and realising technical efficiencies. It is undeniable that simplifying and streamlining the current overly complex system that is public procurement is essential.
I was thrilled to see that the Green Paper highlighted that SMEs are more likely to develop innovative solutions. I couldn’t’ agree more – we work with hundreds of SMEs across the UK who are developing and delivering outstanding examples of innovation, driving solutions to challenges as part of their day job. I hope that procurement teams and contracting authorities are able to embrace innovation as an intrinsic success factor, and that current procurement and commissioning practices are mandated to evolve to ensure the fair involvement of SMEs.
A catalyst for national change
Fostering more effective systems, processes and working practices heralds the dawn of a new age of smart public procurement across the UK – one which could be used as a catalyst for change nationally.
Another encouraging undertone of this consultation document is the acknowledgement of the wider definition of the award of a contract being based on the “most advantageous tender” rather than the “most economically advantageous tender”, implying that the contract award process will evolve to span greater parameters than cost alone by taking into accountfeatures such as social value and unleashing opportunities for small businesses, social enterprises and charities.
Many large firms could learn a lot from the agile and cost-effective methods of the UK’s many innovative SMEs and use innovation as a core catalytic agent playing a significant role in the Government’s levelling up ambitions.
The evolved understanding and measurement of ‘value’ is now extending beyond economic value alone and framed under the concept of “public good” to maximise the public benefit, and to support wider consideration of social value benefits and integrity, as well as the more literal understanding of value for money.
If the proposals suggested are implemented, albeit not likely to be before 2023, they will undoubtedly have a significant impact on public sector contracting.
The OPPORTUNI team share a united ambition to break down the barriers of public sector procurement to give every business, no matter their size or who they are, equal access to tenders for transformational public sector contracts. As the leading authority on bid writing and tendering for public procurement, myself and my team are available to answer any queries about the current process or the proposed reforms and look forward to a more transparent, fair and level playing field on which SMEs can once and for all take the fast lane and make the positive impact I know they will.
OPPORTUNI is the world’s only end-to-end solution that helps SMEs across all sectors to source, bid and win public sector contracts. Dubbed the “tinder-for-tenders,” OPPORTUNI uses smart robots to match small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) to Central Government, NHS and Local Authority public contracts.
Since beginning in March of 2020, OPPORTUNI has been on a mission to redirect £225 billion worth of government spend to SMEs by helping them to win valuable government contracts. In 2021 alone, OPPORTUNI has helped to redirect over £1 billion of this spend to SMEs.