SMEs urged to enter €9bn public tender process

By Pádraig Hoare 

Just one in 10 of Irish SMEs are competing in the public procurement process, which is worth €9bn a year in contracts, an expert in the tender process has said.

Founder and chief executive of TenderScout, Tony Corrigan, said “at least 20,000” SMEs in the Republic should be competing for contracts but were not doing so for various reasons.

Mr Corrigan, who was speaking ahead of a seminar at UCC tomorrow, said while much of the 200,000 country’s SMEs would not be suitable to win such contracts, a sizeable cohort would if they became more familiar with the process.

The event at the Western Gateway Building features speakers from some of Ireland’s largest buyers of SME goods and services, small businesses that are successfully winning contracts, and professional advisors on the process of tendering for public contracts.

Mr Corrigan said: “There are at least 20,000 to 30,000 companies who could be, or should be, competing for contracts.

“I have spent a lot of time working with the public sector in Ireland, the UK, and US, and with various private sector bodies competing for projects. So I was seeing both sides of it.

“Companies that are well capable of doing the job are not able to write what they were able to do on a piece of paper.

“You’d have accountants that would not be able to tell you how they did accountancy; law firms and software firms the same.

This is a process that requires you to be able to educate the uneducated in what you do, so you can deliver the service you are capable of.

Mr Corrigan said there were a number of myths surrounding the public procurement process that had to be dispelled.

“One is that the contract always goes to the incumbent, when in fact they actually lose the contract 70% of the time. That may not be because of a poor job, but because the job may need a fresh pair of eyes.

“It is also a prevailing myth that some SMEs are too small to win a contract, when nothing could be further from the truth.

“If you can show you can deliver, then your firm is not too small.

“We have a two-person plumbing services company delivering €1.5m worth of Government projects,” he said.

Mr Corrigan said it was especially important in the context of Brexit that SMEs showed their capabilities, as it would assist in diversification into new markets.

“It is a source of frustration that, in Ireland, we downplay our abilities to compete on the international stage.

“The reason we focus on government contracts is that if you can win a contract in Dublin or Cork, then you can win a contract in Coventry or Stuttgart.

There are Irish companies thriving on government contracts in Austin, Texas, and there is no reason more should not put the head above the parapet.

Speakers at tomorrow’s half-day event include procurement portfolio manager at the Office of Government Procurement, Dermot Callaghan, and HSE head of procurement, Sean Bresnan, who will explain procurement from the buyer’s side, including procurement systems design, supplier and contract management, cost savings, and procurement legislation.

There will also be advice from European Commission procurement officials.

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