Public procurement is an important driver for economic growth and employment and its creative use can help maximise the impact of public spending. Public tenders constitute a market worth at least €13bn in Ireland every year. There is significant inertia among suppliers which means that there are many instances where buyers receive few or no bids at all.
Many SMEs say that they have tried tendering without success previously or that the tendering processes required for the public sector impose a crushing level of bureaucracy that they are unwilling to engage in. There are two things to consider from this:
- How confident is the company that their bid was of a good professional standard, likely to score well with a buyer that was familiar with their business and potentially well disposed towards it?
- How well does the company understand its sector – where it isn’t known for administrative rigour there is a good chance the competition for these large contracts will be weak?
New Directives enacted in Ireland in 2016 and 2017 mandate that the government must make a concerted effort to facilitate SMEs bidding for its contracts. This means that many contracts will be divided up into smaller parcels called 'Lots' that are well suited to SMEs.
Another challenge for SMEs to rise to is collaborating to win. This is also provided for and directly encouraged in the Directives. To access larger contracts, SMEs must come together to win. There is extensive, valuable support available through IntertradeIreland and through the Local Enterprise Office network. ISME also has an affiliate scheme to assist members seeking to make the breakthrough.
New guidance on procurement in Ireland is available from the Office of Government Procurement here. This comprehensive document outlines how the system works in detail in Ireland.
Those looking at collaboration should remain cognisant of competition law. If in doubt, seek professional advice. A guide is available from www.ccpc.ie.
ISME's position paper on procurement is currently under revision but will be published by Q2 2018. Our priorities for public procurement include but are not limited to:
• Increased SME penetration of contracts at all levels;
• Increased transparency on contract awards through publication of all contract values;
• Introduction of a procurement ombudsman role in Ireland along the lines of that in Canada;
• Training of staff in a procurement role across the public sector to increase professional competency on the buy-side;
• Continued provision of training and support to help small businesses improve their bid competency and capability; and
• Expansion in focus to opportunities in the global / international tender market.