Smaller contractors could soon have more clout in the public sector as the government launched a code of practice to help them win more local authority deals.
Councils that sign up to the new Small Business Friendly Concordat, produced by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM), will publish their procurement strategy, including a commitment to consider the role of smaller suppliers.
Authorities will also pledge to keep the tendering process as simple as possible to minimise bidding costs, and offer feedback to help suppliers improve performance for future tenders.
An ODPM representative said: "We are aware of the difficulties that small companies experience in the public sector marketplace, and are encouraging all local authorities to sign the concordat."
The code is the second government initiative this year aimed at helping smaller suppliers. Earlier this year the Office of Government Commerce and the Small Business Service teamed up to create a web portal to give SME resellers more access to public-sector contracts.
The Federation of Small Business (FSB) said it welcomes moves to change the behaviour of local authorities, but added there are still "fundamental problems" with the procurement process.
Small firms that want to tender often have to be accredited by a third party, which can cost £500. This is a big cost with no guarantee of return, the FSB said.
Pete Mistry, technical sales consultant at VAR Eclipse Group, said local authorities are getting better at talking to smaller suppliers. But he added: "A lot more could be done to get the public sector thinking about who to talk to in their local area."
Bob Jones, managing director of SME appliance vendor Equiinet, warned that working with local authorities can be difficult. He said a more manageable way to tackle the market is as sub-contractors on larger projects.
"Where government can intervene is by making it a condition of the contract that part of it goes to smaller organisations," he said.
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