UK Green Paper: A Revolution for Digital Procurement?

By Oliver Freeman
Analysing the new government Green Paper and what it actually means for the small-and-medium-sized enterprises that it aims to help...

Following procurement writer Tilly Kenyon’s recent coverage of the UK Green Paper and the British government's intention to transform public procurement, and considering COVID-19’s ravaging of the country’s business economy, I decided I’d take a deeper dive into the highly-regarded document. And, to be honest, it did make for an interesting read. 

As you might expect, we deal with procurement professionals a lot here, and after speaking to a few of them, one thing is clear: transparency and openness, as well as an awareness of social value, are infinitely important to the procurement process. 

With the release of the Green Paper, the government set out its aim to overhaul public procurement in an effort to create more opportunities for innovative, small-and-medium-sized enterprises to win contracts. An excellent initiative to wrestle both economic power and popularity away from the industry-leading multinational corporations, which should level the playing field somewhat, I believe. 

Supposedly, anyway. 

The Green Paper says all the right things ─ which is one of the most concerning factors. There’s a shout for openness and a process that supports SMEs echoing down a Westminster-sized auditorium, but I’m not so confident in the government's ability to implement. And, let’s be honest, enforcing the rules in a society where the leading companies seem to have loopholes through government ties left, right, and centre will also be a tough task. 

To truly enforce change, the government would have to strictly state that X will be changing so that Y can benefit. That would signal a big change. That isn’t what’s happening here. 

Is There Really Support for SMEs?

The Green Paper provides a clear outline of the government’s renewed commitment to working with small businesses ─ which is great. Anything that makes it easier for SMEs to join major players is always a plus. It should give buyers more options, and it will stimulate competition, diversity, innovation, and growth in the country’s procurement industry. 

This show of commitment to more open, simplified, and transparent procurement processes is welcome, but one key question still remains: how will it actually play out in practice? Looking past the statement itself, there isn’t any framework set out to provide tangible help for the smaller businesses. 

Looking at current regulations and strengthening them, as the government plans, is sensible, but that action doesn’t really add too much value to suppliers. So, as Adam Maddison writes, “I don’t expect our day-to-day experience to be much different”. 

Speaking exclusively to Sheldon Mydat, a leading procurement and supplier relationship evangelist and the Founder and CEO of Suppeco, I feel a sense of optimism for the idea: 

“There is such a huge opportunity now that we’re beyond the Brexit transition to improve on the past. Several conflated systems, formerly OJEU and a slew of other regulations, that effectively restricted and stymied access to amazing innovation from smaller businesses and startups, should be stripped back.

The green paper sets out to simplify and standardise approaches. This can only be a good thing.

Partnership will play a major role going forward. I’ve been heavily immersed in public procurement for many years now and have already seen the direction of travel: partnerships and consortia ─ a dramatically visionary approach by the government towards entrepreneurial partnerships with new and smaller players. This is easily evidenced in the smart city space in local government up and down the country. The public procurement landscape is already changing for the better around us.”

The Biggest Barrier: Buyer Behaviour 

But before we get carried away, we need to address the biggest issue that SMEs face right now: buyer behaviour. 

For their support to be of any use, the government must step in and start mandating individual buyers to acquire goods and services stringently within a specific set of parameters or rules. Because, as I previously mentioned, larger corporations and stalwarts with international scope tend to be simultaneously bullish and sneaky in their methods ─ ergo, not necessarily “by the book”. 

There’s a crucial role open at this point: leading corporations, rather than scorning at the levelling-out of their playing field, could take the initiative to empower smaller buying organisations by providing best practices training in agile procurement. In essence, they’ve got the opportunity to lead by example. Ultimately, if it’s done right, a commitment to greater transparency should better the status quo for both big and small organisations, and it’ll help to keep everybody accountable. 

Something that, I think we can all agree, is absolutely essential in all industries. 


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