The Government recognises the importance of the SME sector and continues to enhance the already substantial measures to support SMEs in accessing the public procurement market. Significant work has been undertaken by the Office of Government Procurement (OGP) to ensure that public procurement is accessible by all businesses, including SMEs. My colleague, Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan, in accordance with the Programme for Government, chairs quarterly meetings of the SME Advisory Group so that the voice of industry is heard at first hand by Government.
The OGP have developed a suite of measures aimed at assisting SMEs to access public procurement opportunities (circular 10/14). These include:
- employing proportionate turnover requirements with turnover limited to twice the contract value,
- the division of public contracts into lots,
- the provision for “consortia bidding” to assist SMEs to participate in procurement procedures where they would not have the relevant capability or scale, and
- requiring public bodies to advertise contracts for goods and services valued above €25,000 (ex. VAT) on the national eTenders portal
Other measures include undertaking market analysis prior to tendering to understand the competitive landscape and encouraging businesses to register on eTenders, the Government’s national tendering platform. Specific supports are also provided by InterTrade Ireland (ITI) and Enterprise Ireland (EI) to assist SMEs in preparing for public tenders.
There is a commitment in the Programme for Government to “Refine the new procurement structures in place, such as the OGP, as they bed down and make adjustments according to best international practice and in conjunction with Irish businesses”. This review of the Procurement Reform Programme is currently underway and the views of SMEs have been sought from industry representatives which sit on the SME Advisory Group including IBEC, ISME, Small Firms Association (SFA), Construction Industry Federation (CIF) and Chambers Ireland. Their contributions, as well as those received from Government Departments (including bodies under their aegis) are now being considered. The views of the Health, Education, Local Government and Defence Sectors and opposition spokespeople on public procurement have also been sought in this process. The feedback from this engagement will inform the future direction and shape of public procurement.