‘The last thing the government wants is to work with SMEs…’

The biggest – if not only – criticism of government IT is that it spends far too much money on lengthy contracts with large IT companies; very rarely getting what those in industry would call value for money, and typically being tied down to an over-complicated, arduous contract with one of several large suppliers.

But those within the confines of Whitehall claim that they are trying to tackle this, and back in 2011 a target was set for government to do 25 per cent of its business with SMEs, and Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has continually stated that government is trying to create a level playing field for smaller companies to be able to compete with the key players.

However, in a recent interview, former HMRC CIO Phil Pavitt told Computing that the biggest enemy of SMEs trying to break into government IT are the procurement teams that work in Whitehall departments.

He said that procurement teams in Whitehall departments and in central government have been talking up the use of SMEs rather than larger companies, but that this “talk” doesn’t turn into actions.

“They talk about SMEs, and then every process and decision including G-Cloud goes against it. The biggest enemy of SMEs breaking into the government supply side is the procurement teams; they don’t want it, they actively fight it, and you talk to SMEs who are trying to do business with government and it is almost as hard today as it was five years ago,” he said.

But is he right?

“Over the five years, government procurement processes have improved in many ways,” argued Steve Nicholls, group sales director at The MCSA Group, whose brand CSA Waverley is an IT services provider that has been bidding for public-sector work for 30 years.

Nicholls believes that the process has been simplified and sped up, leading to more contract wins for The MCSA Group, and he also thinks government no longer favours larger suppliers for big projects, but admitted that contracting bodies may often be reluctant to use smaller businesses to fulfil them.

He added that the biggest challenges facing small businesses bidding for public-sector work are the reliance on frameworks.

“If you are not on a government framework, or don’t have access to one, then conducting business is a huge challenge,” he said