Public Procurement and Property
SME roundtables review: “Levelling the playing field”
As part of our commitment for public procurement in Scotland to be #OpenAndConnected, we welcome a blog from Director of Scottish Procurement and Property, Nick Ford. Nick reflects on the recent set of SME roundtable discussions we hosted to give suppliers the chance to tell us what is working well and where there is scope for improvement.
I recently hosted a couple of roundtable meetings with small businesses and third-sector organisations as part of our ongoing engagement with suppliers. £5.4 billion of Scotland’s total public procurement spend – which was £13.3 billion in 2019-20 – went to SMEs. Who are critical to our ambitions to grow jobs, benefit our local communities and deliver on our ambitious climate obligations.
Since the last meetings in February much has changed in the world of public procurement, and in the world more generally. We remain significantly impacted by the pandemic, which has put procurement at the forefront of service delivery and keeping essential public services running.
Public procurement is also one of the key enablers of economic recovery. With the Public Procurement Group, we have agreed a set of key public procurement priorities that have been welcomed across the public sector. We remain very ambitious in our approach; building the capacity of our supply chains and supporting SMEs and third-sector organisations to bid for and win public contracts, whilst transitioning to a more resource efficient, lower carbon economy.
As such it is crucial that we listen to suppliers, and the roundtables provide us with the opportunity to understand what is working well and where there is scope for improvement. Adding to feedback from our regular direct engagement with business and third sector representative bodies both individually and through the Procurement Supply Group, consultations, and supplier surveys.
At the recent meetings we covered a broad range of topics including:
- promoting consistent good practice
- reducing the administrative burden
- embracing and encouraging innovation
- improving our systems, processes and feedback
I was pleased be able to share all of the improvements we have made and continue to make. Such as our continued delivery of improvements to the Public Contracts Scotland (PCS) portal and the planned Proactis (system provider) supplier survey at the end of November. To help identify future areas for development; and help to establish an innovation strategy for Scotland. Creating a national, supplier led, innovation portal, allowing business to submit proposals to the Public Sector for evaluation.
Good practice was a recurring theme. With suppliers expressing that greater consistency, both in matters of process and scale, in the public contracts and tendering process would help level the playing field between larger and smaller suppliers. We continue to encourage exploration of early market engagement events and pipeline opportunities. To support consistent practice and place great importance on buyers’ consideration of SMEs in the tender process.
As per the Sustainable Procurement Duty statutory obligations, buyers must always consider how their procurement activity can involve SME/Third sector suppliers and/or promote innovation. I expect all buyers to:
- ensure the prompt payment of invoices
- to monitor and address payment through the supply chain
- increase data capture to aid our analysis of the place based socioeconomic impact across the country
- and crucially, remember of the importance of clear, concise feedback.
The roundtable’s discussions reiterated just how valuable substantive feedback is and we recognise its importance in providing lessons learned to support future bids.
This is of course just a brief reflection of the discussions. We will reflect on all of the issues raised, and where possible take positive action. The bi-annual roundtables are becoming an established feature in our calendar, and a great opportunity to hear from suppliers. I am grateful to those who took time out of their busy schedules to meet with me, and look forward to continuing the dialogue.
Thanks to Nick for these reflections and to all the suppliers who take the time to give us their feedback.
The next roundtable meetings are tentatively scheduled for April 2022.
If you are an SME and interested in contributing to the discussions, let us know, PPS@gov.scot.
To find out more about Public Procurement in Scotland, please visit www.gov.scot/procurement
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