Business Link explains how Cornish companies can capitalise on public sector contract opportunities, the largest single market for any commercial enterprise.
Faced with pressures and limitations from their existing customer base, more and more firms in Cornwall are turning to new procurement opportunities in the public sector.
And, to help local business managers identify suitable prospects and maximise the potential for selling their services and products to clients throughout the public sector, Business Link is working with partner organisations to provide a wide range of advice, guidance and encouragement.
“The public sector is the largest single market place for any business and, although it’s not immune, it’s less compromised by fluctuations in economic fortunes,” says Martin Ellis, procurement expert within Business Link.
“Many firms just don’t realise the breadth and scale of opportunities that exist or are put off by a perception of red tape in the procurement process. But, as more and more businesses look to new markets to protect their commercial interests during the economic downturn, it is clearer than ever that the public sector provides a huge pool of new and secure business opportunities for firms of all shapes and sizes.
“Every year, local authorities across the country spend £40 billion on goods and services, but this figure rises to a staggering £175 billion when one takes account of central government, The National Health Service, the emergency services, the educational sector, the armed forces – not to mention the 75,000 projects that provide contracts worth £6 billion for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
“What’s more, not only do public sector organisations have to be fair and transparent in the way they choose their suppliers, but they also pay promptly within agreed contract terms which offers much more security in the area of cash flow.”
To help local businesses capitalise on such new business opportunities, Business Link provides a wealth of advice through its telephone advisory team (0845 600 9966), on-line (www.businesslink.gov.uk/southwest) and through its network of Business Advisers across the county.
Working with partners like Cornwall Council, the Federation of Small Businesses and Cornwall Medi-Park, Business Link’s Convergence team continues to undertake various events and workshops around the county to provide tips and support for local firms keen to explore new business potential in the public sector.
In January, a seminar at Royal Cornwall Hospital highlighted the huge range of opportunities for selling products and services to the NHS. More recently, a special evening event was held to help the county’s businesses find, submit and win public sector contracts – with Chris Bray, Senior Procurement Adviser at Cornwall Council, as keynote speaker. For anyone who was unable to attend, a special film production of the event will be available shortly on the Business Link website and similar events are likely to be organised around the county in the months ahead.
“There are countless opportunities for businesses to sell products and services to public sector organisations,” adds Ellis.
“From stationery, office furniture and IT specialist equipment, to services like catering, cleaning, marketing and facilities management, as well as an enormous range of subcontract opportunities – the list is practically endless. We’re determined to help members of our local business communities to take full advantage of this market so they can boost both their short-term business prospects while also creating scope for longer term gain.
“That’s why we hold regular events on the subject and have so much information and advice available on our website. Quite simply, we want to make sure that Cornish businesses are as well-informed and well-placed as anyone to make informed approaches to local authorities and other public bodies and that they know how to identify suitable opportunities and submit a convincing tender.”
As well as the Government web portal (www.supply2.gov.uk), there are many local tendering portals that give small businesses the opportunity to bid for a huge number of public sector contract opportunities nationwide, typically worth anything up to £100k.
Until recently, the procurement procedures for smaller contracts within local authorities were relatively fragmented. But, like other authorities, Cornwall Council is adopting a more ‘corporate’ and consistent approach for publishing and awarding contracts to outside suppliers.
All tenders over £10k are advertised on the Council’s website, but three competitive quotes are required for any contract valued at under £10k – and, naturally, local businesses are in a good tendering position for such contracts given their location, local knowledge and ability to react quickly.
It is, therefore, in the interest of local businesses to demonstrate and register interest in becoming a supplier – not least because the Council’s average contract value is £1.5k, which highlights the range of opportunities that exist when one considers the authority’s substantial use of external products and services.
The www.competefor.com website, set up by the London Development Agency to provide a ‘brokerage’ service between suppliers and buyers in the London 2012 Olympics supply chain is also a very a very useful resource. Significantly, as well as thousands of business contract opportunities, there are many thousands of 2nd and 3rd tier subcontracts ideally suited to many SMEs.
Details on other public sector contracts within the European Union that are valued above a predetermined threshold can be found in the Official Journal of The European Union and in the associated online supplement, Tenders Electronic Daily.
More information on public sector procurement and details on forthcoming events in the county can be found on Business Link’s website – www.businesslink.gov.uk/southwest.