In July 2016, I became the new Small Business Crown Representative. The role is focused on working with central government to ensure the target of spending £1 in every £3 with small business is met by 2020.
As a business owner myself, running Enterprise Nation, a lively community of over 70,000 small businesses, I want briefly to outline progress to date and make one key ask of civil servants.
The Crown Rep role is one day per week, so it was important to set priorities on what can be achieved in a 12-month tenure. The three priorities I've set are:
- simplify: make it easier for small businesses to work through the bidding process
- promote: make sure small businesses know government is open for business
- innovate: match government buyers with new products/services in their pre-procurement phase
Three months in and progress is being made. To get the word out that government is open for business, I've been travelling the country in person and communicating online. There have been small business roundtables in Leeds, Birmingham and London, with more to follow in Bristol and beyond. Meet the buyer webinars are being rolled out so small businesses can log on and hear direct from a government buyers about requirements and top tips on how to pitch. A 'Guide to selling to the Public Sector' is about to be released and we’re refreshing the Government’s SME Panel, which will meet quarterly to offer feedback and input.
We are exploring how mandatory information that is currently required every time a company bids for a contract could be updated so that the applicant (in the case of small businesses, this is often the business owner themselves) completes the information once and it remains stored in preparation for future bids. This would save business owners valuable time and increase efficiency.
Despite the measures government is taking to make it easier for SMEs to bid for government contracts, many of the entrepreneurs I meet are frustrated. They understand the pressures of the buying department and feel they have solutions to offer. Their issue is that they just can't get their products and services seen or tested without going through a full procurement exercise. It's in this area I'd appreciate help from procurement and commercial leads across all departments.
Rather than 'Meet the Buyers' events, I'd like to see a concept of 'Meet the Entrepreneurs', where you can view products and services in an environment that's safe for the entrepreneur to share the IP behind the idea. This is something I'm exploring with a company that organises a show to match entrepreneurs with investors – my job is to connect them with you!
I'd like to hear from any buyer who has an early engagement exercise and would be willing to give the show a go and themselves an opportunity to identify potential suppliers with innovative products and services that could benefit their department. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, or you just want to know more, send me a message on Twitter (@emmaljones) or get in touch with Crown Commercial Service.
Small businesses are keen to work with you. You are keen to buy from them. If the right connections can be made, everyone wins.