Umbrella Company employees and other independent freelancers contracting as IT professionals may stand a significantly better chance of securing government contracts thanks to the Cabinet Office’s newly revamped Contracts Finder online tool.

Originally introduced in 2011, the tool rapidly became a central focus point for suppliers, receiving around 166,000 page views every week. Work has since been undertaken to enhance the tool’s intuitiveness and make it simpler for end users to navigate, as well as to provide more open information on government process. The latter was specifically intended to encourage sole contractors and SMEs to become more involved in government contracts.

Currently in alpha phase, Contracts Finder is expected to launch in beta next year. The government has made expanding the role of SMEs in public sector IT a key policy focus as it strives to cut the number of agreements signed with big suppliers in favour of smaller alternatives, often on the basis of shorter-term contracts.

The latest government figures reveal that sales from its G-Cloud framework broke £270.6m between its launch in 2012 and July this year. According to the Cabinet Office, 54% of spending went to suppliers categorised as SMEs.

Even so, trade body Small Software Association (SSA) believes that there are inconsistencies between the requirements of local and central government bodies when seeking IT contractors, with the cards still stacked against smaller suppliers in terms of the opportunities available to them.

The government should also relax restrictive practices such as requiring suppliers to take out multiple types of insurance cover to undertake contracts, the SSA believes, which clearly discriminate against smaller suppliers.

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