For a Small Business owner capturing the opportunity of selling to Government bodies can initially seem bewildering. There has been much done in the last few years to increase transparency and to make it easier for SMEs to work with Government bodies, most notably the 2022 publication of the Crown Commercial Service’s first SME action plan.

What is the Crown Commercial Service (CCS)?

CCS is the largest public procurement organisation in the UK. They use catalogues and frameworks to have commercial agreements in place with a range of suppliers to be called off by buyers in Central Government departments and other public bodies (for instance councils, police forces or the NHS). Examples of frameworks used for purchasing are Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data & Analytics, Construction Works, Language Services and Supply Teachers.

CCS was introduced in 2014 and the intervening time has seen an explosion in the number of SMEs registered to provide services to Government and those who are subsequently winning work.

What’s included in the Action plan?

The current action plan has five strands

  1. Paying suppliers on time. This is a significant benefit of doing business with Government, the action plan commitment is to pay 90% of invoices within 5 days and all invoices within 30 days. This certainty of cashflow will allow an SME owner to invest and run the business with much greater certainty.
  2. Increase visibility of opportunities. All tenders and contracts over £10,000 will be advertised on the Contracts Finder website. This is filterable to only include opportunities that are appropriate for SMEs.
  3. Remove barriers to support SMEs. Contracting for large opportunities can be onerous to ensure that the taxpayer is receiving value for money. However, at the lower values the barriers to entry are much lower and an SME should be able to find accessible opportunities in the Contracts Finder where the individual opportunities are less than £50,000.
  4. Measuring success. Objectively demonstrate that the number of SMEs being contracted and the total value of SME spend is increasing each year.
  5. SME champions. Departments will have there own champions who are driving the SME agenda.

Where to start?

Barriers to entry still exist for opportunities below £50,000 and it’s important to recognise these and ready the company in advance of actively engaging in bidding for them. Generally the barriers relate to quality standards within the organisation and ensuring that employees are safe and that adequate protections are in place for handling Government data. Our recommendation is to start by getting the following in place;

Cyber Essentials certification. This is a self assessment framework and can be seen to represent good practice in cyber security for your own organisation.

Anti-slavery policies and procedures. Having these policies in place and be actively working to remove the risk of engaging with companies who may use modern slavery in your supply chain is a baseline requirement for Government contracts.

ISO 9001 and OHSAS 18001. Having these certifications may not be a firm requirement in every opportunity, however we do see that having internal processes that you can attest to meet the requirements of the standards is preferred. Much like Cyber Essentials, you can view have internal systems that improve the quality standards of the products and services being delivered as good practice rather than just as a business development activity for accessing Government opportunities.