SMEs and the public sector are made for each other

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A decade ago, the chances of an SME being awarded a substantial government contract were slim to non-existent. It simply didn’t happen. Government IT procurement in particular was woefully bureaucratic, with protracted tendering processes for huge contracts that were usually restricted to businesses of genuine scale. Large contracts were invariably won by large organisations that, more often than not, delivered inflexible, inefficient services, which wasted a lot of money.

Over the past three years, however, a transformation has been occurring towards good use of budget effectiveness within the public sector. Government Digital Services (GDS) and Crown Commercial Services (CCS), along with initiatives like G-Cloud and techUK, have made it possible for companies like our agency, Orange Bus to get involved.

Four years ago it would have been much harder to imagine a business such as ours having 45 per cent of work for the year ahead from the public sector. Possible, yes, but much less likely, however, it’s exactly the situation we’re in today - a phenomenal year of trading puts overall growth at Orange Bus 70pc ahead of target with a turnover of £3m. Public sector work made up 33pc of our business this year - up from 15 per cent 2014.

Of course, that’s great news for our business - profitability is essential and transforming digital government is a huge area of growth for us. But, it’s also fantastic to be able to deliver real worth that makes a sustainable difference; by providing value, innovation and quality, we know we’re having a direct, positive impact on the region.

The new public sector attitude towards SMEs is helping both local and central government improve services, save money and put an end to digital exclusion, including HMRC, the Department for Education,, the NHS, the Department for Energy and Climate Change and the Skills Funding Agency.

The UK Government has pledged to place a third of its spending with SMEs by 2020, which is great news for businesses and the taxpayer. The digital requirements of local and central government are many and varied, meaning that digital agencies of all sizes should look at their potential to work with public sector if they haven’t already done so.

The first step is to do your research into the various government procurement frameworks that your agency may be eligible to apply for. In some cases, these frameworks are only open to new applicants a couple of times per year, so make sure you find out all the relevant details as soon as possible.

The application process might seem quite difficult initially, but it is absolutely worthwhile to invest the time, attention and effort required to register your details fully. You’ll be asked for detailed explanations of your products and services to be displayed online, so take the time required to properly refine your products and services and the way you describe them to prospective customers. Once you have your details properly uploaded to the relevant online portals you’ll find, just as we have, that government departments start to find you and approach you independently.

Our work with the public sector has been a major driver of growth for the agency in recent years, so if you are a small agency owner who thinks that public sector contracts are beyond the reach of a business like yours, it’s time for you to think again.

Mike Parker is chief innovation officer at Orange Bus.

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