IT industry association techUK has urged government to carry out more procurement through the Digital Marketplace to increase the impact of SME suppliers.
It has made the call as one of the recommendations in a new report, Procuring for Innovation and Growth, which comes from its fourth annual survey on the position of SMEs in the government digital space.
This is the latest instance of techUK championing the cause of SMEs in the govtech sector. It has consistently argued that they are able to provide innovation and new solutions that does not always emerge from the larger technology companies.
Among the findings of the survey, which took in 101 SMEs among the association’s members, was that while 63% said the G-Cloud framework had helped them in the market, 68% said the Government had not done enough to follow up its commitment to give them a better chance of winning business.
Only 37% said they thought the Government’s target for 33% of its business going to SMEs in the next five years is achievable – a sharp slump from the 49% who thought it possible last year.
In addition, only 15% thought that government buyers have a sufficient understanding of how a small business can meet their needs.
Among the shortcomings identified in the report are a lack of pre-procurement engagement with the industry, insufficient understanding of what small businesses can do, and a difficulty in sharing good practice. These are making it hard for the public sector to tap into the expertise and capacity for innovation among SMEs.
In response, techUK says government buyers should run more procurement through the Digital Marketplace, with the Cabinet Office carrying out a structured, concerted effort to expand its use across central and local government. This should be done in collaboration with customers and suppliers.
It also warns against a proliferation of frameworks, saying that more volume through just a few is likely to do more good.
Other recommendations including adopting a more strategic approach to market engagement, largely through talking to the industry outside the procurement cycle. techUK says it will work with the Government to produce a roadmap for good industry engagement.
It also calls for the public sector to develop a better understanding of SMEs and how to work with them, and to play up the benefits of working with smaller companies through their networks.
Chance to compete
Henry Rex, techUK’s head of central government, said of the report: “Respondents to our survey were keen to highlight that some initiatives designed to improve SME access to this market that have allowed smaller businesses a chance to compete openly with larger ones for opportunities.
“However, the overall picture from these results is pretty clear: there is still a great deal to be done to ensure that government can access the range of capabilities that govtech SMEs can bring. Particularly disappointing is the fact that this year respondents seem to have even less confidence than last that the Government will meet its SME supplier target in the next five years.
“Clearly there is no silver bullet here. If there was one, it would have been used long ago. But I hope that the findings from our survey can add renewed impetus to the SME agenda, and that the recommendations in the report can go some way to improving SME access to the market.
“If we can get more SMEs supplying to the public sector, we can seize the govtech opportunity and make the UK as well known for govtech as it is for fintech.”
Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0