Consultation on small enterprises and contracts 'does not address the major issues'

Charlotte Ravenscroft, head of policy and research at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, says there should be more dialogue before procurement occurs

Charlotte Ravenscroft
Charlotte Ravenscroft
Proposals to make it easier for small and medium-sized enterprises to win government contracts do not address the major issues faced by charities, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations says in its response to a Cabinet Office consultation.

The consultation proposes measures such as scrapping pre-qualification questionnaires for contracts below the threshold, whereby they must be advertised throughout the EU, and introducing a standardised PQQ for larger contracts.

The NCVO’s response says that the umbrella body "welcomes the government’s aim to make procurement more accessible for SMEs and less bureaucratic".

"However, the government should be more ambitious and take steps to address wider barriers confronting voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations in public procurement," it says.

Charlotte Ravenscroft, head of policy and research at the NCVO, said that her organisation wanted to see much more consultation and dialogue taking place before the procurement process.

"These dialogues are an influence on how the final contract goes forward," she said. "We think better pre-procurement dialogue would really help."

She said that another proposal – asking commissioners to provide consistent data on how much they procured from SMEs – should be extended to the voluntary sector.

"This would allow us to see whether the government’s agenda of opening up public services is really working," she said.

Ravenscroft said the NCVO opposed plans to scrap PQQs below a certain level, and would prefer a standardised PQQ form instead.

"If this stage is scrapped, charities will be forced to put in full bids without any real understanding of whether they might win the contract," she said.

And she said the new standard PQQs should include a question for organisations to demonstrate their social value.

"We would like the government to go further in promoting the Public Services (Social Value) Act," she said.

Ravenscroft said she wanted to see extensions of existing training for commissioners and, in particular. training made available to procurement teams.

Ravenscroft said the NCVO remained concerned about the size of contracts and hoped that measures could be introduced to prevent contracts being tendered at county-wide rather than district or ward level.

And she said that contracts were based increasingly on price, rather than quality.

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