Last week Mantis hosted a roundtable to answer the question; ‘What progress has central government made in levelling the public sector procurement playing field for SMEs?’
This was the first in a private, invite only series of events we’ll be running in the next 12 months, which will connect our public sector contacts with technology influencers who have interesting propositions and points of view.
I chaired the debate and it was a packed 90 minutes
Representing central government were Liam Maxwell, Executive Director of Reform, Cabinet Office and Deputy CIO for Government; Stephen Allott Crown rep for SMEs, Cabinet Office. Also on the public sector side were Neil Warsop, government procurement expert and Ben Goward, the CIO of Westminster City Council.
We invited a small group of sector focused SME technology companies who had all mentioned specific procurement questions and concerns recently, and then completed the debate with two of the UK’s most active public sector IT writers, Kathleen Hall from Computer Weekly and David Bicknell, editor of Government Computing.
All delegates acknowledged the progress that the Cabinet Office had made since the pledges of the coalition Government to make business easier for SMEs in the UK, whilst also recognizing that more still needed to be done.
What really stood out for me were the following:
You procure commodity but you commission innovation.
This is my favorite statement of the day, from Liam Maxwell. However, whilst it is a great sound bite, I wonder how realistic it is in the risk averse public sector economy. This was highlighted by Andrew Mindenhall from Agilisys, who talked about how, in this sector, you need a certain amount of reference sites and case studies to demonstrate where you have done this before. But, by nature, if you are asking an organization to do something differently (for example, to innovate) then you are not going to be able to demonstrate where you have done this before. The likelihood is, that it it hasn’t been done before.
The Government supported a ‘disaggregated approach’ to contracts – to try and avoid all encompassing umbrella contract with single suppliers. Whilst this was welcomed by most, could it mean significantly more work in terms of running multiple procurement tenders and dealing with multiple suppliers at a time when they are under pressure in terms of headcount?
Publish the pipeline
The Government supported the idea to produce a pipeline of contracts due for renewal that would enable SME organisations to plan and staff major procurement projects more effectively – more visibility and transparency, as per the Coalition pledge.
It’s safe to go with smaller
Educating all departments and sectors within the public sector that it is actually ok to do business with an SME! Whilst central government is fully on side with supporting SMEs, they did acknowledge that more needed to be done at an education and cultural level to encourage their peers and their colleagues from across the sector to embrace the SMEs.
We’ve had fantastic write ups in Government Computing
and Computer Weekly today
So, with the first event done, we’re thirsty for more. Who would you like to meet? What would you like to ask the public sector’s policy and decision makers? Let us know and we’ll do our best to make it happen.
Full list of attendees:
1.Paul Coad, Kainos
2. Ben Goward Westminster Council
3. Andrew Mindenhall, Agilysis
4. James Thompson, Software Europe
5. Mark Taylor, Sirius
6. Graeme Young, Dundas & Wilson
7. Simon Pettit, Stone Computers
8. Vic Baldorino, Updata
9. David Bicknell, Campaign4Change, Government Computing
10. Liam Maxwell, Cabinet Office
11. Neil Worsop, procurement lead, Cabinet Office
12. Stephen Allott, Cabinet Office
13. Kathleen Hall, Computer Weekly