Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Dowden visited Informed Solutions this week to announce proposals to further “level the playing field” for SMEs bidding for Government contracts and to ensure that SMEs within supply chains are treated fairly and paid on time.
The Minister’s visit to Manchester was timed to coincide with the launch of new measures that strengthen government’s commitment to procuring more products and services from SMEs. The Minister also explained that in analysing the supplier landscape following the collapse of Carillion, government was keen to mitigate the risks associated with concentrating too many public contracts in the hands of too few very large providers. Government is committed to procuring in ways that create a more dynamic and diverse supplier marketplace and that allow SMEs to share in and scale-up their businesses off the back of government contracts.
The new measures include providing SMEs with direct channels through to government to surface issues that they may be experiencing with lead contractors, including the highly damaging issue of habitual late payment on cash flow. Additional measures also include monitoring the conduct of lead suppliers on government contracts, and allowing for the exclusion of those that do not demonstrate fair business and payment practices with subcontractors.
"I want to send out the message, particularly post Carillion, that the Government is very much open for business with SMEs"
Further measures require lead suppliers awarded large government contracts (over £5 million) to advertise subcontracting opportunities through government’s Contracts Finder service, as well as reporting on how businesses with supply chains, particularly SMEs, are benefiting from government contracts.
The Minister went on to reference Informed Solutions as a successful example of a Northern Powerhouse SME that delivers value and innovation to Government. Informed Solutions’ UK CEO, Seth Finegan, explained that the company had also benefitted in return, leveraging growth, taking on new staff, extending the company’s graduate and work placement programmes, investing in training and upskilling in high value areas such as cyber security and Artificial Intelligence, and increasingly exporting those solutions and capabilities globally. Minister Dowden then met with a number of Informed Solutions’ graduates and university placement students. He was impressed with the diversity of the team, the breadth of different courses and universities represented, and how the company developed, skilled up and integrated the next generation of professionals into the workforce.
Minister Oliver Dowden meets some of Informed's graduates and placement students
The visit also included a roundtable discussion between the Minister and representatives from the business leadership community, including the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, Altrincham and Sale Chamber of Commerce, the Manchester Growth Hub and Greater Manchester Combined Authority. It’s clear that the economic success of the Northern Powerhouse, and also the region’s exporting credentials, are in no small measure due to the significant support provided to SMEs and their business scale-up ambitions.
Explaining why he had come to our region to announce the new procurement measures, the Minister said: “I came to Manchester to break down the perception that SMEs need to be near Whitehall to win Government contracts. If we’re only using the same five big companies then we will continue to get the same old stuff. But if we’re drawing on thousands of companies to deliver innovative products and services then we will have a different marketplace. I want to send out the message, particularly post Carillion, that the Government is very much open for business with SMEs.”
Speaking after the meeting, Informed Solutions Global CEO, Elizabeth Vega said it was an incredible honour to host the Minister for such a significant announcement.
“We were delighted to welcome the Minister and really encouraged by what he had to say. For too long there has been an uneven playing field and often unfair treatment of SMEs within the supply chains of large government contracts. It’s a serious breakthrough to see top level government commitment and the concrete steps being taken to open up and transform the marketplace,” she said. “By harnessing the innovation, value and capabilities of SMEs across the country the Government can get better value for taxpayers, deliver improved services and give a huge boost to local economies and businesses, including those (like us) with scale-up and export ambitions.
“I sincerely thank the Minister for his time and the fantastic business leaders and allies from our region that attended today,” she added. “It’s impressive to see how the various parties work together to support SME businesses and growth across all the communities of Greater Manchester and the Northern Powerhouse.”