The National Procurement Service (NPS) is fully committed to encouraging the participation of SMEs in their nationwide competitions and has taken a number of steps to make this possible. 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. The NPS actively encourages consortia to tender for their competitions. 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.
One proven method to encourage the participation of SMES is through the use of lots in a competition. In the current office equipment tender the NPS has divided the range of printers sought into five individual lots with plans to place up to seven companies on a framework for each lot. Therefore, there is the potential for thirty-five different companies to win places on this new framework.
In order to lighten the burden placed on SMEs when tendering the NPS operates in line with the best practise recommendations of the Department of Finance Circular 10/10. These steps include the use of proportional criteria for turnover and qualification, proportional insurance levels being set, ensures that there is no requirement for companies to submit all relevant paperwork (e.g. tax clearance certificates, auditors statements) upfront. The NPS also uses the CSSO approved standard suite of documents when drafting a tender and uses the eTenders website to ensure all companies can access the documentation and any clarifications quickly and freely. There is a social clause included in current public works contracts which deals with pay and conditions of employment, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform are considering how it may be possible to include a performance requirement for the employment of the long-term unemployed in future contracts.