Government procurement spending with SMEs has passed the Cabinet Office's goal for 2014-15, but the public body "cannot be certain" if spending with SMEs actually increased over the last Parliament.
Last year the government said it had surpassed its target of a quarter of spending through SMEs a year early, with 26 per cent going through SMEs in 2013-2014, according to a report released by the National Audit Office (NAO). This then went up to 27 per cent in 2015.
However, the NAO report said: "we cannot be certain that the amount [the] government spends with SMEs has increased over the last Parliament".
This uncertainty was due to the fact the reported rise in spending with SMEs happened over the same period that the Crown Commercial Service increased the number of providers it surveyed.
"As a result, we do not know how much of the reported increase is due to the changes in approach and how much is an actual increase in SME activity," the report said.
Looking forward, the government has set a goal of 33 per cent of spending through SMEs by 2020. But the report said this target will be "challenging" and will be heavily dependent on whether the Ministry of Defence (MoD) increases its SME spend.
Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said the Cabinet Office needs to be careful with the way it raises its SME spending.
"If the government is serious about increasing its use of SMEs, it will need to focus on those areas where SMEs can deliver real benefits," he said. "The government's direct procurement spending with SMEs was £4.9bn in 2014-15. As it seeks to increase this further, government will need to think carefully about the full range of risks and opportunities that contracting with SMEs presents, compared to working with larger providers."
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