SMEs need more encouragement to avail of the €12bn public procurement market, with only 14% of them bidding in public sector tenders in the past 12 months.
Cross-border enterprise body InterTrade Ireland made the call for more support at its annual Meet the Buyer networking event in Dublin yesterday. The event links key buyers (this year featured the likes of NI Water, the Central Bank, ESB Networks, and the HSE) with SMEs to raise awareness of the kinds of service they tender for, forthcoming opportunities and how they tender.
Opening the event, Simon Harris — the minister of state with special responsibility for public procurement — said public procurement represents “a huge opportunity” for the small business community, and reiterated the Government’s support in the matter.
“Aside from capital projects, the State spends about €23m a day on purchasing goods and services. This is a significant contribution to the domestic economy and [this] event reiterates the Government’s commitment and that of the new Office of Government Procurement to supporting and up-skilling SMEs to engage with public procurement and compete for this business,” he said.
Acting InterTrade Ireland chief executive Margaret Hearty said the organisation was committed to equipping SMEs with the necessary skills to compete in the public procurement process.
Small firms group ISME still thinks much more needs to be done, calling for better use of the e-tenders website (including better indication of tender prices) and the setting up of a procurement ombudsman who can audit buyers and contract awards and hear from suppliers to make recommendations for improvement.
“Public procurement is an important driver for economic growth and employment and its smart use can help maximise the impact of public spending,” said Mr Fielding. “The development of SMEs is vitally important to the national economy and public procurement can be an important source of business for SMEs.
“The national procurement system must be designed with a long-term vision and from a ‘think small first’ perspective, a concept recommended by the EU.”
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