In March 2012 in conjunction with Minister for Small Business John Perry and I launched a Report on Opportunities in Public Sector Procurement. The Report, compiled by DCU, was a result of Ireland’s first national survey of public procurement practice, carried out by the National Procurement Service (NPS) of the OPW, with over 4,000 suppliers and 600 public procurers contributing to the research. Some of the key recommendations regarding micro industry are outlined below.
1. Minimise Barriers to Micro and Young Enterprises through Open Tendering
Department of Finance Circular 10/2010 recommends that all supplies and services contracts below €125,000 and all works contracts below €250,000 are to be awarded under open procedure. The National Procurement Service actively promotes the use of the open procedure at its training courses for public sector buyers. It also provides a link on eTenders showing that the open procedure should be used below the Thresholds stated.
2. Facilitate Micro-enterprise Access through Lots and Joint Bidding
The new eTenders website is designed to make it easier for public sector buyers to use lots when going to tender. It allows the buyer to specify the number of lots and then to provide detailed specifications for each lot. The new system also allows for suppliers to include a separate bid if where they win all lots available in a tender. Again the National Procurement Service actively promotes the use of Lots at its training courses for public sector buyers.
Similarly the NPS encourages SMEs and micro-enterprises to collaborate on public sector tenders by encouraging joint bidding or consortium formation.
In NPS competitions, the tender documents explicitly seek to encourage the participation of SMEs. A prime example of this is when the NPS decided to divide the office supplies contract into three individual lots for Stationery, ICT Consumables and Paper. SMEs that believed the scope of the competitions were beyond their technical or business capacity were encouraged to explore the possibilities of forming relationships with other SMEs or with larger enterprises.
Through such relationships they could participate and contribute to the successful implementation of any contracts that resulted from these competitions and therefore increase their social and economic benefits. Larger enterprises were also encouraged to consider the practical ways that SMEs could be included in their proposals to maximise the social and economic benefits of the contracts that result from these tenders.
3. Reduce Paperwork Burden
The NPS in conjunction with the Chief State Solicitor's Office have produced a set of standardised documents for use by contracting authorities when tendering. This has permitted suppliers to become more familiar with the questions to be answered and the forms to be appended to their tender thus making it easier for them to respond to tenders. The new eTenders website also allows suppliers to load their corporate documents such as Tax Clearance Certificates, Accounts etc on to the site just once where they can be used for multiple tenders. These documents are stored securely and comply with the data protection requirements.
The NPS places Prior Information Notices on the EU's official Journal, which give up to a years notice of intention to go to the market for goods or services. Similar information is also made available on the NPS web.
The National Procurement Service (NPS) is working with an established collaborative working group to identify and implement practical solutions to challenges for the SME sector in relation to public procurement.
In exceptional circumstances, and if appropriate, the NPS pilots innovative solutions that can involve research and expenditure up to EU thresholds with a view to informing future tender competitions and the development RFTs that would issue to market.
The NPS Survey for 2013 has just closed and again has had a very positive response form both Suppliers and Buyers. A report on the findings of this latest survey will issue in the second quarter.