Martin Traynor OBE was appointed Small Business Crown Representative at the start of 2019. In this blog he explains what he has discovered in his first six months in the role and his priorities for the future.
What is the role of the Small Business Crown Representative?
In my role as Small Business Crown Representative I have been asked to lead on the overall relationship between the government and small and medium sized businesses (SMEs), advise ministers on the government’s engagement with them, and to identify the barriers they face when working with government.
The UK government buys a wide range of goods and services from businesses right across the country. This ranges from major rail and road projects, through to fresh food and specialised services to help people find work. Of course it is a big buyer of many of the services that BSA members provide.
Currently, central government spends around £50 billion a year in third party contracts. These contracts represent a huge opportunity for many of the UK’s five million small businesses.
In the first six months in the role I have met with business representative organisations such as the CBI and the Federation of Small Businesses, trade associations ranging from construction to the security industry, senior commercial people from across government, Ministers, and most importantly, over 40 small businesses. I wanted to hear first hand where the issues are, so that I could start to develop a number of interventions to remove any unnecessary barriers and to help SMEs compete for government contracts.
I am pleased to report that in my meetings with the government’s commercial teams the conversation has focused on how we can spend more with SMEs, not whether government should. That’s a significant cultural change and very welcome. Ministers also remain fully behind the initiative to drive up government spend with SMEs.
However, if we are going to increase the number of businesses participating in government led contracts, then it’s critical that SMEs are paid promptly for the work they have done. That’s why I welcome the measures implemented on 1st September, that will exclude those suppliers from major government procurements if they cannot demonstrate fair and effective payment practices with their subcontractors.
I urge all businesses with major government contracts to urgently review their own payment performance practices and processes to ensure they are meeting the expected standards. If they are not, then it’s vital to make the necessary improvements to ensure 95% of their invoices are paid in 60 days! See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/procurement-policy-note-0419-taking-account-of-a-suppliers-approach-to-payment-in-the-procurement-of-major-contracts–2
Looking to the future, I have identified four key areas that require action-
The government provides an excellent portal on the Contracts Finder website where businesses can see all public sector contracting opportunities. Businesses will also find additional opportunities to bid for work in government supply chains, as the largest suppliers are encouraged to openly advertise subcontracting opportunities. To help us promote this free service, I want to see many more business advice services and trade associations provide a link to Contracts Finder on their websites and platforms. I will be contacting all the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) across England, along with a wide range of relevant trade associations, to ask them to promote this service and to include the link on their websites.
Advising SMEs on bidding for public sector contracts
Having heard from a large number of SMEs who have found bidding for government work both daunting and time consuming, and from buyers who tell me that bids from SMEs often don’t meet the criteria and are also disadvantage in comparison to the larger companies with professional bid writing teams, action is clearly required. Government has taken significant steps to make the bidding process simpler, however, I believe that more could be done to help SMEs, especially those who are new to public sector bidding. In response, we are going to pilot a public sector bid advice service in the East Midlands to test whether this type of support can improve both the volume and quality of bids.
Helping SMEs meet the buyer
Bringing buyers and potential bidders together can often help buyers design better contracts and can give potential bidders more information to decide whether to bid. I recently came across an example of where a government department was looking for SMEs to engage with the construction phase of a project, followed by SMEs to be involved in the running of the establishment post opening. What the department lacked was the local knowledge to be able to deliver relevant meet the buyer events. Therefore, I am working with a business representative organisation to develop a way of making it easier for buyers to run these events and ensure appropriate SMEs are invited.
Tell us once!
I understand and sympathise with the frustrations that many SMEs feel when they have to provide the government with the same, or similar, information every time they bid for work. Much of the information that government asks for is common to all procurements. I am constantly asked why this information cannot be stored and reused, to avoid continuous form filling. In response, there is work underway across government to standardise the approach to gathering business information and I am working to keep up the momentum. I’m meeting regularly with the teams involved to ensure that different strands of work are joined up.
Let’s keep talking
It is my intention to continue to meet with businesses, business representative organisations, government commercial teams, and Ministers so that I remain fully apprised of our progress in developing this important agenda. So I’m delighted to be attending a workshop arranged by the BSA next month.
I’m also keen to hear directly from SMEs and the organisations that represent them. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me through LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/martin-traynor-obe-640421b9/ .
To help us identify any remaining barriers and challenges that SMEs face, if you find a contract opportunity which seems unfair, then please report this to the Public Procurement Review Service who investigate concerns and can make recommendations for improvement.
About Martin Traynor OBE
Martin Traynor OBE comes from a business background, with much of his early career spent in the hospitality sector, managing various hotels across the UK. He then spent 14 years as Group Chief Executive of Leicestershire Chamber of Commerce (including the Business Link service). In recent years, Martin moved to a portfolio career where he is now a Non-Executive Chairman of three leisure businesses, Deputy Chairman of a large teaching hospital trust, and has just completed two three-year terms on the government’s Regulatory Policy Committee.