SMB resellers claim they are getting left out of government deals, not because they lack technical competency, but because of reams of red tape.
Hampshire-based CCL's managing director, Dennis Armstrong, raised the issue after being presented with a 92-page Invitation To Tender (ITT) document for a £10,000 public-sector deal, which he described as "outrageous".
He claims that such a huge amount of paperwork makes it near impossible for smaller firms with fewer resources to go for bids.
"You've got to produce audited accounts, you've got to do this, you've got to that, you've got to provide an inside-leg measurement - it's ridiculous," he said. "It's not achievable by an average, ordinary small organisation. The [ITTs] have been written with one company in mind - they select who they are going to use and exclude everyone else by the questions they ask. It's a travesty for businesses. It's outrageous."
Over the past year, the government has been keen to shout about its new pro-SMB IT procurement agenda. As part of its aims to level the playing field, it capped government IT deals at £100m and enforced a two-year maximum on them to prevent supplier lock-in.
But Armstrong said the measures do not go far enough and that SMBs often fall at the first hurdle.
"I've worked in big companies before where your particular function in life is responding to ITTs," he said. "If you work for the big organisations that is what they employ people to do.
"We could technically do it and provide a quote [for certain tenders] - but it's not the solution, it's complying with all the other bits you need just to supply a quote. If you don't have all the other bits, you can't supply them. You might have the solution but you can't even apply."
Shaune Parsons, managing director of Cardiff-based SMB reseller Computerworld Wales, also feels firms the size of his get a raw deal on some government contracts.
"The consensus would be that [ITTs] are extremely difficult," he said. "We've just gone through a particular tender exercise and some of the mandatory things you had to have in there would have precluded hundreds of small resellers.
"It's still difficult for smaller resellers in a lot of instances because of the reams of red tape. In reality the smaller resellers can provide much better services wrapped around the products for the customer."
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said it plans to do more to help SMBs but insisted it has made a good start.
"As part of our long-term plan for a stronger economy, we have introduced ambitious reforms to help SMBs tender for and win business," the spokesperson said.
"We've already slashed red tape and sped up payment systems but next year there is even more to come, with reforms on the way such as the relaunch of Contracts Finder and the introduction of prompt payment within 30 days right down the supply chain."
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