The jobbing Umbrella Company Employee may be about to find his or her chances of securing public sector contracts much improved, thanks to new government proposals to render such contracts more accessible to SMEs.

A new consultation document recommends abolishing pre-qualification questionnaires for all contracts below £100,000 along with a commitment to electronic invoicing and tough action on late payments. The consultation closes on 17th October.

SMEs, which include many of the UK’s professional contracting community, account for 99.9% of the country’s 4.5 million businesses but currently receive a mere 10.5% of central government spend.

Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith acknowledged that SMEs had been “shut out of government business” historically, largely because the bidding process for contracts was so onerous in terms of time, complexity and cost; however, this is set to change. Ms Smith said: “With £230bn per year spent on goods and services right across the whole public sector, government wants to seize the opportunity to help hard-working SMEs get on by competing for and winning this business.”

The proposals to tackle late payments will be particularly welcome to small businesses and individual contractors, who are far more adversely affected by them than bigger companies.

In a renewed commitment to transparency, the government is also recommending that all contract openings and awards should be advertised online.

Welcoming the proposals, Azmat Mohammed, the director general of the Institute of Recruiters, nonetheless warned that “changing the process is one thing, changing the culture to take on small businesses is another. Purchasing managers play safe, and they don’t like to award contracts to small firms or those they don’t already know.”

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