Government’s SME target a ‘tough ask’ says Fishwick

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Fishwick (pictured) says there has been some progress but tender process must be opened up to smaller firms

New PSNGB SME director, Ian Fishwick, says it will be a “tough ask” to hit the government’s stated target of giving a quarter of all IT contracts to SMEs, by the end of the current parliament.

The association of Public Service Network suppliers has been trying to break down the barriers-to-entry for years and received a boost when Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, announced the initiative to give more contracts to SMEs.

However, SMEs still face problems in meeting eligibility criteria, as well as the excessive demands of sub-contractors and Fishwick, also chief executive officer of Adept Telecom, says more needs to be done.

“In terms of direct (contracting), the most common way of stopping SMEs stopping bidding for work is, in a tender they’ll do a whole list of products that you need to,” he explains.

“If you’re a wi-fi specialist….suddenly, you can’t do your area of expertise because you can’t do things like cabling buildings. We’ve got to persuade people to allow you to bid for what you can do, because if you make the product choices too wide, you end up with BT again.”

There has been some success in parts of the procurement process, but Fishwick still believes the hardest work lies ahead in trying to tap into the larger government contracts.

He adds: “There’s been some progress, things like reducing insurance certificate values, but they’re a bit like reducing the size of the seventeenth fence on the Grand National. If you can’t get past the first two, it’s pointless.”

“If you look at G-Cloud, buying products off the internet for the government, there you can see a significant proportion of the products going to SMEs.

“Where it is much slower are on the giant contracts, Universal Credit for the DWP, there is a danger you’ll get more than 25 percent of the small stuff, but none of the big stuff and that’s the challenge.”

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