In relation to improving access for small and medium sized enterprises my Department has issued guidelines (Circular 10/10) that require public bodies to promote participation of such enterprises in the award of public contracts. These guidelines set out positive measures that contracting authorities are to take to promote the involvement of smaller enterprises in a manner that is consistent with the principles and rules of the existing public procurement regulatory regime. 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;
- sub-dividing larger requirements into lots where this is practical.
In relation to the duration of a tender process and its impact on SME participation, due to a wide and varied nature of supplies and services secured throughout the public service there is no maximum timeframe for tender processes. This is because the duration set by the Contracting Authority would be proportionate to the needs and complexity of the contract it relates to. However, I would dispute the Deputy’s assertion that a longer procurement process is a barrier for SMEs. The longer timeframe is likely to give SMEs better access to public procurement opportunities by affording them the necessary time to form alliances and networks to ensure they can tender on a competitive basis for this work.
The National Procurement Service (NPS), which will be transferring into the new Office of Government Procurement (OGP), is focused on developing centralised arrangements for the procurement of goods and services used commonly across the public service nationwide. The benefits arising from these central arrangements include: cash savings; administrative savings from reduced duplication of tendering; greater purchasing expertise; improved consistency; and enhanced service levels. Public bodies have always been allowed to tender for similar goods or services that are available through NPS contracts if they felt they could achieve better value.
The NPS has now put over fifty frameworks in place and these are available to hundreds of public bodies. By availing of such centralised contracts substantial administrative savings for the exchequer can be achieved.