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 (OGP) in this regard including:
- proportionate turnover requirements with turnover generally limited to twice the contract value,
- the division of large public contracts into smaller lots,
- encouraging SMEs to bid as part of a consortium in procurement procedures where they would not have the relevant experience or scale alone, and
- requiring public bodies to advertise contracts for goods and services valued above €25,000 (ex. VAT) and for works valued above €50,000 (ex. VAT) on the national eTenders portal.
My colleague, Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan, chairs the SME Advisory Group which provides a forum for Government and SME representative bodies (including ISME, IBEC, SFA, Chambers Ireland, and CIF) to exchange information and collaborate on promoting SME participation in public procurement. One of the initiatives emanating from this group is the SME Communication Strategy sub-group, chaired by the OGP, which was established in 2017 as a joint venture with the industry representative bodies. This group further promotes awareness of potential opportunities and supports available for SMEs in tendering for public contracts. The OGP, working in partnership with the industry representative bodies and other government agencies, has developed a series of online videos and workshops to support smaller businesses build their awareness of procurement opportunities and to develop their capabilities to engage in tender competitions, whether those competitions are at home or abroad. A series of focused and targeted breakfast briefings have also taken place around the country in conjunction with Inter-Trade Ireland and the SME Advisory Group partners. In 2018, OGP representatives attended 50 external events to raise awareness of the public procurement model. This focus on proactive engagement has continued in 2019 with the OGP attending events around the Country including in Athlone, Kildare, Kilkenny, Killarney, Letterkenny and Wexford.
As alluded to by the Deputy, the OGP operates a dedicated Support Helpdesk (from 09.15-17.15 Monday to Friday) that provides advice to public sector bodies and suppliers on a wide range of queries.
Minister of State O’Donovan and I wrote to Government Ministers in January asking for their views on implementation of the public procurement reform programme to date and suggestions for improvements. Minister of State O’Donovan has also conducted a wider consultation process including with opposition spokespersons, our sectorial partners in Health, Education, Defence and Local Government and the SME Advisory Group. This consultation will inform the future direction and shape of public procurement and SME participation in public procurement will form a key element.