Public Procurement and Property

SME Day Podcast: Local authorities engaging more SMEs

June 27, 2022 by No Comments | Category podcast, SMEs, Sustainable Procurement

Are you a public sector organisation? Would you like to engage more SMEs in your supply chains?

Today (27 June) is world SME Day! Therefore we are highlighting the impact of micro, small and medium sized businesses.

Scottish public sector bodies spent £13.3 billion in 2019 to 2020. Of this spend, £5.4 billion (46.2%) went to SMEs, significantly, SMEs in Scotland received £3.6 billion of the spend.

A key element of our Sustainable Procurement Duty  is engaging more SMEs within Scottish supply chains.  So, in our latest podcast, we talk to two local authorities who have positively grown their SME spend in recent years.

They discus why growing their spend with local SMEs is important and how they have actually gone about engaging more SMEs in their supply chains.

Many thanks to Laura our host, and our guests Anna from Argyll & Bute Council and Ola from Dumfries & Galloway Council for contributing to the podcast.

Take a listen now (transcript available at bottom of page):

Public sector bodies wishing to increase their spend with SMEs can find guidance and support at and via the Sustainable Procurement Tools. 

Local authorities can find out more about using the Grow Local tool by emailing 

Are you an SME organisation looking to work with the public sector?

Read about how we’re improving access to contracts for SMEs, the third sector and supported businesses.

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Multi-speaker Transcript:

Laura Hunter:
Hi everyone! Thank you for joining today’s SME Day Podcast. Engaging SMEs within supply chains is a key element of the Sustainable Procurement Duty.

I’m Laura from Scottish Procurement. Our guests today are procurement professionals from two local authorities – Dumfries & Galloway, and Argyll & Bute, who have positively grown their SME spend in recent years.

Ola Margasinska:
I’m Ola Margasinska, a senior procurement specialist from Scotland Excel actually and I’m working on a project with Dumfries & Galloway Council as part of their procurement team.

Anne MacColl Smith:
Anne MacColl Smith and I’m the manager for the procurement team at Argyll & Bute Council and it’s nice to be here today.

Thanks for joining us! So, moving on to today’s discussion. Anne, can you tell us why it’s important for Argyll & Bute Council to grow its spend with SMEs?

For us we are a rural local authority, we are all about trying to support and grow numbers of SMEs within the authority.

and I think Laura, similarly to what Anne said – Dumfries & Galloway Council is a rural local authority and that’s why we understand how important and also how reliant we are on the local SMEs.

Because when we grow the spend with SMEs it also helps us to build the capacity and capability for our contracts and therefore provides the better quality and better cost of goods and services back to our communities.

Can you tell us, Anne, how has your local authority grown its SME spend over recent years?

I think in relation to how we actually go to tender, we have been lotting a lot of our tender documents so that certain SMEs can apply for certain contracts. So it’s encouraging them to have a go and see how they get on with it.

We created a new web page to say what we’re all about. We’ve put on frequently asked questions, we have been putting up our contract plans so it’s publicly available as per the APR requirements and we have been providing one to one training events for certain contracts that are coming up.

We put some information out on our social media pages to try to encourage SMEs to actually see what’s involved and how to bid, and that’s worked really well over the past few years.

Ola, how does that compare with Dumfries & Galloway Council?

I can definitely see some similarities when Anne talked about the training and also the lotting structure in our contracts.

For Dumfries & Galloway Council I would say that the focus is especially on the local businesses and engagement with them, but they are also the majority small and medium companies.

One of the things that we did is that around five years ago the council reviewed and updated their procurement standing orders.

So it mandated that 50 per cent of suppliers that are invited to Quick Quotes, so our lower value procurement exercises were to be local businesses and that’s a minimum of 50 per cent so it can be also more than that.

Another thing that we did and we still do is hosting supplier engagement workshops. Another thing I can think about is the mapping exercise conducted with our colleagues from Economic Development team and this was to analyse council spend, where do we see SMEs and local businesses depending on the regions and this then could inform Economic Development team if there are any SMEs that need particular support.

Sounds like having good data is key to looking at your approach to the SME market. So we’ve obviously just come through a very challenging couple of years with the pandemic and its ongoing impact.

Anne, how did you overcome the challenges of working with SMEs during this time?

I think we worked in partnership, very closely with a lot of our local SMEs during the time. At the very start of the pandemic, as we all know, PPE was in short supply and we put a call out to all our local SMEs to see what they had available because a lot of the SMEs were actually shut down.

I think that for Dumfries & Galloway Council the greatest challenge is around availability and capacity and that’s something that Anne talked about as well.

So we’ve talked so far about various approaches to engaging with SMEs and one of the areas we wanted to talk about today was the tools that are available to public bodies to help them engage with suppliers and SMEs.

I wonder if I could ask both of you, in terms of the Grow Local functionality, that’s available via the Scottish Procurement Information Hub. Can you tell us about how you use Grow Local? and what it’s benefits are?

Dumfries & Galloway Council joined around a year ago a Community Wealth Building project with some other councils and with support from the Scottish Government and Scotland Excel. So that’s when we gained access to the tool and I know that the report that Grow Local tool produces is useful for the wider analysis of our strategic contract development so we can see where in our region there are SMEs and we can make a decision on what procurement route we want to choose.

Anne, can you tell us how else you engage suppliers in your local area?

We went out to the market and put a questionnaire to them to see how can we get you involved and what could we do to help to try to encourage you to bid for contracts and what they suggested was specific training that is targeted for a particular new tender that is coming up and if it could be online if possible.

Supplier Development Team work very closely with ourselves and feedback has been very good with the suppliers.

We mostly engage with suppliers through the engagement workshop either organised by ourselves or through the Meet The Buyer events

I wondered if both of you could share a couple of live examples of engagement with particular SME suppliers?

We went out to our local communities to actually see what they would need and what they would want so for all intents and purposes it’s like a wish list and we shared that with our SME suppliers and they have been able to actually fulfil a number of these.

Sounds fantastic – and Ola, similarly, are there any examples you’d like to share?

Some of the examples I can think of are around development of our frameworks that we’ve done in the last few years. So we’ve been approached by the local SME and saying that they would like to join our roads contract opportunities but they were quite unsure who to contact or how to do it. Also, the tender documents seemed a bit complex for them and they didn’t know how to approach this. and I guess just to give a little bit of background, some of these contracts in the past were advertised to a closed list of suppliers as a kind of Quick Quotes.

So as this feedback came we decided to openly advertise the larger framework. It would be lotted into different geographical areas and also different disciplines that allowed also local SMEs to join the framework

Alongside with that we had workshops and signposted to the Supplier Development Programme that this particular supplier said was really useful to find a little bit more about how they can actually tender for the public contracts and in the end, as far as I know, they bid only for the smaller contract in the beginning – however this allowed them to grow their business and reapply for the next renewed framework for a bigger contract.

That’s fantastic. And finally we’ve been talking about the tools and avenues available to help grow SME business.

I just wanted to finally ask you, if you can tell us whether you use Scottish Government or Scotland Excel frameworks to engage SMEs?

Yes we do on a regular basis.

Yes absolutely similar. I could also add that some of the flexible frameworks and dynamic purchasing systems that either Scotland Excel or Scottish Government offer are really useful.

Yeah I would totally agree, it’s the same in Argyll & Bute I think it’s fantastic – it’s really encouraging that we can access them and know that they’re a quality supplier.

That’s really positive to hear. I think we’ll wrap up there for today and I just want to thank you both, Anne and Ola, for contributing to today’s podcast and for making this a really interesting conversation.

And hopefully this will inspire other public sector organisations across Scotland in terms of how they can engage more SMEs in their supply chains.

Thanks to our audience for listening today and you can find out more about support and resources available on – Thank you.

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