Lucy McCormack, Technology Commercial Lead from Crown Commercial Service explains how CCS is removing the barriers and levelling the playing field for SMEs

Published 27 November 2023

Last updated 27 November 2023

Nearly 6 in 10 of the suppliers on Crown Commercial Service’s (CCS) commercial agreements are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). 

Whilst direct spend with SMEs through CCS agreements has risen year on year since 2017 and the number of SME suppliers winning business through CCS agreements has almost doubled since 2018, we know we need to do more to level the playing field. 

One of the potential changes proposed in the upcoming Procurement Bill is to include a new objective stating that contracting authorities must have due regard for the barriers faced by SMEs throughout the procurement lifecycle, and remove or reduce those barriers where possible. 

As an organisation, understanding those barriers and ensuring we’re doing what we can to remove them is all the more important in order to encourage SMEs to bid for and win contracts.

What are the barriers to SMEs doing business?

There are currently a number of potential barriers for SMEs, including:

  • a lack of awareness of opportunities
  • lack of market engagement leading to a limited understanding of buyer needs
  • requirements that are too specific or too vague leading to SMEs believing they won’t be successful
  • short, unachievable timescales to complete tendering or start working
  • contract risk allocation that is not proportionate to the opportunity
  • complex procurement process that is too resource heavy and time consuming
  • specifications that are too prescriptive and do not allow for innovation

What has CCS done to reduce barriers?

  • established an SME working group – collating best practice, sharing challenges, and presenting successes in the SME space. We offer knowledge and guidance and invite SMEs to share their honest experiences of working with us and the public sector.
  • published our first SME action plan on – the plan explains how CCS is simplifying its public procurement processes to make it easier for SMEs to win government contracts (due to be updated later this year)
  • committed to paying 95% of undisputed invoices within 5 days and all within 30 days
  • published all opportunities over £12,000 on Contracts Finder
  • offered training sessions to suppliers to help them understand how to meet the Carbon Reduction Plan requirements outlined in PPN 06/21

What will CCS be doing next?

Once the Procurement Bill is in place, we’ll listen to SME concerns and experience of the new public procurement regime and work within the regime when it lands to reduce the barriers they are facing. 

We’ll continue to work with customers to explain what CCS does to support SMEs and what approaches they can adopt like reviewing financial thresholds, publishing pipelines, undertaking pre-market engagement and setting realistic timescales.

We’ll continue to provide guidance for our customers on how the public sector can continue to work and support SMEs, for example, see our recent Procurement Essentials article. 

Discover more

To learn more about how CCS is levelling the playing field for suppliers of all sizes, download our digital brochure.

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