Improving Public Procurement Processes for Women-owned SMEs

Accelerating the UK’s SME economic engine through transparent, simple and strategic public procurement was the focus of the Glover Review, published by the UK Treasury in November 2008.

How women could benefit from a focus on supplier diversity was the subject of a Workshop at the Prowess Conference in March 2009. Participants felt that both the Glover Review and the Equalities Bill, which was being discussed at the time, provided key opportunities for an increased profile and potential legislation that could impact positively on supplier diversity.

They saw a danger of duplicated effort because there were lobbying organisations like WEConnect and MSDUK addressing similar issues from a supplier diversity agenda but with a slightly different target audience. Given that many of the issues around procurement and accessing supply chains are the same for any SME, it was felt that greater collaboration would be very beneficial.

The workshop participants called for a key focus around stimulating collaboration to enhance procurement opportunities for SMEs. Alongside this, they felt it is important to be able to identify and plug gaps in supply chains.

Learning from the Private Sector

They wanted to learn from and roll out best practice around private sector supply chain initiatives. Notably from sectors such as aerospace (SC21) and construction. They are noted exemplar networks such as the Virtual Enterprise Network (VEN) that could be rolled out to encourage greater collaboration

Funding from organizations such as Train To Gain could help in terms of addressing skills issues.

Balancing a desire to stimulate procurement from local businesses vs. legal barriers and cost implications, was a challenge. And ‘cost’ was a major issue in terms of evaluating ‘unit cost’ vs. ‘real cost’ (negative externality) – sustainability & secondary impacts on local supply chains are areas that might impact in this area. How to influence purchasing decisions and differentiate between bids within legal parameters and ‘terms and conditions’, is an issue.

The workshop called for greater national consistency in terms of Business Link’s role/involvement would be helpful (but adhering to the ‘Information, Diagnostic & Brokerage model). They wanted the Public Sector to lead by example in this area – including giving robust feedback to unsuccessful bidders.

If only one thing could be achieved out of the Glover Review recommendations, they felt the single biggest impact would be the standardisation of Pre-Qualification Questionnaires (PQQs).

There was general support for the vision for one portal for public sector procurement opportunities but it was noted that there are risks about it being unwieldy, too inflexible and something that does not encourage or stimulate collaboration. It could, however, play a key role in matching suppliers to areas where there is market demand.

There was a desire to ensure that in the building of any one ‘portal’ lessons were learnt from both other successful and less successful systems that have been developed in this arena.

It was also agreed that any new portal should have much better functionality around analysing data and trends to give key intelligence to procurers and suppliers.

We need more case studies and success stories to inspire others. And, we need to ensure that innovation and creativity is championed through the procurement process rather than being stifled. Specifications should outline the end result that is required – allowing potential suppliers to stipulate the ‘how’.


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