Digital Marketplace still flying the flag for SME access but more work needs to be done

Today we have published the results of our sixth annual Govtech SME Survey, exploring the experiences of SMEs in the public sector.

Helping SMEs access the Public Sector technology market is a critical part of the work we do here at techUK. The potential that small businesses have to transform public service delivery through their innovation and capabilities is clear and well-documented. We want to support Government in recognising this, which is why every year we undertake this survey.

From January 2021 to March 2021 techUK surveyed over 100 SMEs who work in or aspire to work in the public sector, gathering their experiences of the public sector technology market.

40% of our respondents feel that the Government has acted on its commitment to helping small businesses break into the market over the last five years. While this is a considerable improvement from last year, it is still a disappointing figure on the whole and it is clear more needs to be done.

There is some good news, once again the Digital Marketplace continues to be the brightest light in this survey with 65% of respondents agreeing that it has made opportunities in the public sector more open and visible to all, this is up from 60% last year. We hope the Digital Marketplace will continue to help improve SME access to the public sector technology market.

However, 92% of respondents feel that Government buyers do not have sufficient understanding of how small businesses can meet their needs – this is a very worrying statistic. We want to help Government take advantage of the innovative nature of SMEs and it is evident that the public sector has a huge job to do in giving SMEs more assurance that they will harness their capabilities.

Moreover, the barriers identified in this year’s survey remain largely unchanged. A risk-averse culture within the civil service, too many frameworks and lack of meaningful early industry engagement continue to pose a significant challenge. These need to be properly addressed and broken down in order to ensure a smoother procurement process for SMEs.

While there are some signs of improvement these are still marginal and slow, and there is a long way to go. If the Government work with SMEs on understanding and harnessing their capabilities, recognise how SMEs can meet their needs and work to address the major challenges then we do believe that access to the market for SMEs will improve.

Efforts from Government work when they are used effectively and with SMEs best interests at heart and we will keep doing our best to drive the next leap forward in access to the public sector technology market for SMEs.

That is why we have made the below recommendations off the back of this year’s results. We need to see things like more early market engagement, the pre-procurement stage is vital for suppliers, especially SMEs who do not have as much time or resource as larger suppliers. Secondly, ministerial SME champions for every department would be vital in helping Government drive the SME agenda forward and improve Government relationships with SMEs.

  • More early pre-procurement market engagement
  • Wider use of the digital marketplace
  • More use of Dynamic Purchasing Systems
  • Annual price review built into contracts
  • Fewer frameworks
  • Ministerial SME Champions

Commenting on the results, Ellie Huckle, Programme Manager for techUK’s Central Government Programme:

It’s excellent to see the Digital Marketplace is still flying the flag in improving access to the market, however it is very concerning that 92% of respondents feel that Government buyers do not have sufficient understanding of how small businesses can meet their needs – this statistic has slightly worsened since last year. We need to take urgent action, there is a huge appetite among them to work with Government and have opportunities more open and visible. We really hope that our recommendations will help improve the situation for SMEs – the Government know what needs to be done, we need to see more early pre-procurement market engagement and Ministerial SME Champions in order to supercharge and drive the SME agenda forward.

Ellie Huckle

Programme Manager, Central Government at techUK

Click the link below to read more and download the full infographic.

Ellie Huckle

Ellie Huckle

Programme Manager, Central Government, techUK

Henry Rex

Henry Rex

Associate Director, Public Sector, techUK


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