On 2nd June CoreFiling was proud to participate in the 4th Supplier Engagement Conference, supported by the Cabinet Office and several other HM Government departments, illustrating the Government’s continuing commitment to the SME agenda.

The Government’s stated target is that 25% of all direct and indirect central government spend should be with SMEs by 2015. The aim of the conference was to explain to the audience, consisting of around 300 representatives from the SME community and government departments, the progress achieved in engaging and conducting business with the SME community.

The Rt. Hon. Francis Maude, MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office, delivered the conference Keynote Address – ‘The Importance of SMEs to Government’. He focused on the advantages offered by SMEs, who make up 99.9% of UK businesses and provide economic stimulus as well as developing innovative products, and acknowledged that the days when Government dealt with only a small number of larger vendors are long gone. His key message was that working with SMEs promotes better value for taxpayers’ money and provides an engine for economic growth. He stressed the importance of IT companies and as an example, he cited the G-Cloud initiative, part of the new digital agenda, which has seen some £175M worth of Government contracts let under this umbrella.

In turn, SID4GOV (Supplier Information Database for Government) marks a new initiative to help match Government requirements against SME capabilities, while removing many of the previous business obstacles. For example, in the past suppliers had to complete a Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) that would almost always automatically exclude SMEs from the tender process, as there was an expectation that suppliers should be able to handle all aspects of the project. SME capability is now fully explained on SID4GOV, making it easier for prime contractors to include SMEs as part of wider bids.

The Conference also debated the fact that some SMEs prefer to engage directly with Government departments rather than the larger vendor prime contractors. SCC and HMRC Aspire (Cap Gemini) both offered a perspective on this.

Ian Hicks, CoreFiling’s Director of Professional Service, took part in a joint presentation with Dave Henderson, SME Champion – Commercial Directorate, HMRC, and Adele Every, SME & Innovation Champion, HMRC Account, Capgemini. Entitled ‘Working in Partnership: HMRC, Capgemini and the SME community’, this session explored how HMRC has worked with Capgemini to build a supplier base from amongst the SME community in order to bring on board innovative solutions, and profiled CoreFiling as an example of successfully working together. Adele explained some of the success factors when dealing with SMEs, pointing to the need to engage with SMEs early in the bid process, helping them to recognise the long cycle times and being honest if the proposed SME innovation does not fit well within the confines of the project. Of particular interest was the need to provide SME-friendly terms, such as prompt payment, to ensure a sound relationship. Ian provided the real-life example of how CoreFiling has worked very effectively with HMRC and Capgemini, pointing out that it can be frustrating when decisions are delayed, but that ultimately a successful project can lead to a sound basis for ongoing business. In CoreFiling’s case, it led to additional projects in other sectors. Ian pointed out that Capgemini engaged with CoreFiling at an early stage in the projects and employed a ‘light touch’, which really helped promote a successful relationship.

A Home Office representative, John Fernau, offered his department’s perspective on ‘Delivering against the SME Aspiration’. He explained that some of the Government’s SME engagement targets can be challenging, particularly since the majority of the projects within his department are large-scale and only substantial suppliers are in a position to prime those projects; the challenge is persuading large vendors to work together with SME’s.

The conclusion was that the Government continues to be committed to the SME agenda, because there are distinct benefits to be derived: better value for taxpayers’ money through reduced Government spending. As SMEs prosper they create wealth and jobs, so reducing unemployment and fostering growth in the economy, thus resulting in a win-win relationship.