I am aware that public procurement can be an important source of business for Irish small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Current guidelines (Circular 10/10) issued by my Department require public bodies to promote participation of SMEs in the award of public contracts. The guidance also highlights practices that are to be avoided because they can unjustifiably hinder small businesses in competing for public contracts. The key provisions of the guidance include:
- supplies and general services contracts with an estimated value of €25,000 or more to be advertised on the www.etenders.gov.ie website;
- less use of “restrictive” tendering procedures and greater use of “open” tendering;
- ensuring that the levels set by contracting authorities for suitability criteria are justified and proportionate to the needs of the contract; and
- sub-dividing larger requirements into lots where this is practical and can be done without compromising efficiency and value for money.
My Department is keen to streamline procurement processes – consistent with its value for money, legal, transparency and probity objectives. In order to reduce the costs involved in participating or conducting the procurement process, the National Procurement Service as part of the new Office of Government Procurement is promoting standardisation and simplification of the public procurement function. It has published a suite of model tendering and contract documents which will help both businesses and buyers to reduce administrative costs.
In addition my Department has developed contracts for Public Works and Construction-Related Services that give greater cost certainty at tender stage, for capital projects. The construction reform initiative has yielded substantial savings in capital procurement.
In order to encourage greater SME participation the National Procurement Service, over the past three years, has conducted a targeted programme of education for suppliers who wish to learn more about doing business with the Irish Public Service. This programme consists of seminars, workshops and large scale 'meet the buyer' events hosted nationwide. To date the NPS has facilitated workshops and presented at seminars to over 4,500 SMEs nationwide. Parallel with these events the NPS also works closely with business representative bodies such as ISME and IBEC to provide briefings for their members.