I've delayed sending out this week's e-bulletin to comply with an embargo announcing that Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Dowden is introducing changes to encourage small businesses to apply for more government contracts. I was recently in Number 10 to hear about these proposals and came away more optimistic than I walked in – which is not always the case after meetings with ministers.
The Prime Minister has written to members of the Cabinet to ask them to nominate a small business champion minister in each department. There's always the risk this will just be cosmetic, but ensuring responsibility is exactly what any well-run organisation – public or private – would do to bring about institutional change. It's not sufficient, but it's necessary.
The Government will also exclude suppliers from major government procurements if they cannot demonstrate fair and effective payment practices with their subcontractors. Late payments can have devastating repercussions down the supply chain, with the European Commission finding that 30% of UK businesses report that late payment had links to subsequent redundancies.
Also, suppliers will have to advertise subcontracting opportunities via the Contracts Finder website. This will reduce the search costs for smaller businesses and through increased competition should improve the quality of subcontractors and with it the quality of procurement projects.
These announcements are all part of meeting the long-established target of procurement spend of 33% with small businesses by 2022. This is now being framed as an "aspiration", which is government language for unattainable. However, I don't think we should obsess over percentages.
What we should care about is further levelling the playing field by reducing the burdens of bureaucracy and regulations, improving the experience of Contacts Finder and ensuring departments have the skills, processes and even a little risk appetite for procuring innovation.
Selling into government isn't for everyone, but for business owners interested in finding out more, Contracts Finder will let you search for opportunities in different sectors, find out what’s coming up in the future, and look up details of previous tenders and contracts.