Drafting OJEU notices - opening contracts up to small businesses

Readers may be aware that a major policy objective at both European and UK level is to increase the opportunities for small and medium sized suppliers (SMEs) to tender for public contracts. SMEs are seen as being a potential source of innovative and cost-effective providers for some types of public contract.

In November 2008, the Glover Report was published which contained several recommendations, including that by the end of 2010 all public sector contract opportunities should be included on one single, free, online portal. In summer 2009 the government removed subscription fees to Supply2.gov.uk for SMEs in an aim to make the site more accessible. It has also released a free online procurement training course aimed at SMEs called Winning the Contract.

Last week the OGC built on these initiatives by publishing guidance for authorities on how and when to flag contract opportunities to SMEs. The guidance includes a list of characteristics of contracts that may well be appropriate for SME involvement. These include when the contract is low value requires local delivery is for a tailored or innovative product or service.

The guidance also includes suggested wording for inclusion in OJEU notices and other advertisements to make it clear that the contract could be delivered by SMEs. It is however also important to make it clear that the mere fact that a bidder is an SME will not confer an automatic advantage in the evaluation (since this would be discriminatory and contrary to the spirit of the procurement regime). The suggested wording is:

The Contracting Authority considers that this contract may be suitable for economic operators that are small or medium enterprises. For the avoidance of doubt the contracting authority points out that no weight will be attached to whether an economic operator is an SME in selecting economic operators to [submit tenders/participate in dialogue/negotiate] or in assessing the most economically advantageous tender.

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