Suppliers criticise GDS procurement for 'lack of clarity'

Dxw's supplier survey lays bare SMBs' challenges in applying for government contracts

The government's "incomprehensible" procurement notices are putting off smaller IT suppliers that could well be capable of fulfilling the contract demands, according to a wide-reaching survey.

The poor quality of writing in nearly three-quarters of procurement notices muddied suppliers' understanding of what government organisations actually wanted, public sector supplier dxw's research found.

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Dxw built a tool to analyse 2,996 votes from suppliers and clients on 31 procurement notices posted on the Government Digital Service's (GDS) Digital Marketplace across three weeks in October 2017.

Of the opportunities, respondents found only 13% that were generally good, compared to 65% that were considered to be generally bad.

In addition, 71% of the notices didn't properly explain the problem the notice wanted solved, and 74% didn't clearly describe user needs.

Harry Metcalfe, MD of dxw, said: "It seems very likely that the quality of writing in opportunities is putting off SMBs who are more than capable of undertaking these projects.

"Many opportunities are unclear and some are essentially incomprehensible - except perhaps to the incumbent supplier. Clearer opportunities will ensure there is a wider, more diverse pool of suppliers, which will provide greater value for money for the public sector and better services for users."

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While he pointed out that the research wasn't a rigorous analysis, he claimed it provides "a general sense of the problem" suppliers perceive, which he is discussing with GDS directly this week.

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The research did find that 77% of the procurement notices required six or more 'essential skills' - potentially at odds with GDS's aim of upping government's IT spend with smaller suppliers, after setting itself a target of at least 33% spend on SMBs by 2020.

The most recently available figures, for 2015-2016, show the government spent just 24% of its budget with SMBs - 11% directly and 13% indirectly.

Of the procurement notices dxw analysed, 45% shortlisted one or more suppliers, and 32% didn't clearly describe the budget for the work.

Metcalfe hopes to work with GDS to solve the issues in the next Digital Outcomes and Specialists framework (DOS3).

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