techUK has launched a new SME programme to provide members with information and inspiration to help scale and grow their business.
As part of this programme techUK caught up with the Founder and CEO of Unilink, Francis Toye, who explained to us not only his business, their relationship with Government and winning overseas business, but also the role of the Cabinet Office SME Panel on which he sits.
Unilink is a niche UK software company which develops biometric software solutions which are proven to make prisons safer, cheaper to operate and more rehabilitative. We have developed a new concept of prisoner self-service, closely linked to the offender and case management software, which provides enormous benefits to prison administration. It is currently use in about fifty prisons in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, and prisoners have submitted over 1.5 billion transactions. The software has been independently assessed by York and Portsmouth Universities and it was found that there is a statistically significant reduction in reoffending from prisons where the product is used. Following this success, Unilink has recently won a multi-million pound contract in Norway for prison and Probation.
Most of Unilink’s business is with central Government and with outsourcers? How did you, an SME, develop relationships with Government and these large outsourcers?
Currently Unilink does business with four Government departments in three countries, a few Police Forces and many of the UK Government’s major outsourcers including: Serco, Sodexo, G4S, Amey, GFSL, Mitie, Keir, MTC and others. Only one good relationship, where you can demonstrate that you are a competent, reliable supplier with valuable products and services, with one large organisation is necessary to win more business with other such organisations. Unilink won a £500 rental contract with Hampshire Constabulary, our local Police Force, and having won that small contract we then won more. We became established as an SME that could supply large enterprises and won a £300k contract with another large company UK Detention Services, which was later purchased by the French outsourcer and catering supplier, Sodexo. This meant we were underway and had a referenceable base to seek new business. Over the years we have built up our business with these suppliers, which has enabled Unilink to grow and supply more services.
You export today to Australia, New Zealand and the EU. How did you win overseas business?
Unilink had good fortune. Having established good relationships with Serco, Sodexo and G4S, these companies chose to licence our software in prisons and detention centres in Australia, New Zealand and Austria. Following unsuccessful attempts to sell our solutions in North America, where we had no references, we investigated the market in Australia eventually winning a contract with the Government of South Australia. As a result, we have started an Australian company operating out of Adelaide. More recently we have started bidding in the EU and have had success in Norway, winning business through word of mouth in our sector.
You are on the Cabinet Office SME Panel? What is the objective of the Panel and your role?
Three years ago, I was selected to be a member of the Cabinet Office SME Panel. The objective of this Panel is to help Government to do more business with small and medium sized enterprises. Some time ago it was discovered that other EU Governments do more business with local SMEs than is the case in the UK, yet SMEs often provide more innovative solutions and better value for money, so it’s in the Government’s interests to do a higher proportion of business with SMEs. The target is for Government to spend 33% with SMEs, and today it is achieving 25% so there's some way to go.
The Panel is divided into sub-groups trying to change the business environment to make it more SME-friendly. My role is to run the payment sub-group, where we are trying to ensure that both Government and the large prime contractors working on Government business pay their SME suppliers promptly. There have been several initiatives in this area, with the prompt payment code and the payment data that must now be provided to BEIS, but there is still much to be done to improve payment practice. It really does matter to SMEs.
For a brief summary of public sector prompt payment requirements which make it easier for SMEs please go to https://www.gov.uk/guidance/prompt-payment-policy .