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How the Government helps UK growing businesses

Tanya Goodin
Tanya Goodin
CEO
9 July 2010

BusinessLinkLogoColourHave you been on the Business Link site recently? Me neither. But you will be as pleased as I am to know that our business tax pennies have been well spent over the past three years. Click on the link How Much ???!!! and you’re looking at a business investment of £105 million (yep, £105,000,000).

Stunned silence . . . I could not believe it either, but the hard figures are there for everyone to see, and thank you, Rory Cellan Jones, for giving us the news that governments care enough about the bedrock of the economy (that’s us in the SME sector) to spend £105 million – oh yes, £105,000,000 -  on a business help website.

So, we know that our governments always work seven days a week, 52 weeks a year to build our economy. Using that metric, we know that the BusinessLink website has cost us a very reasonable £95,680 per day for the past three years. In my book, that’s money well spent.

Why? Well, if nothing else, this government spend shows the total bankruptcy of the procurement system for national contracts. We all know the adage that no one gets fired for hiring IBM - but not only is that thinking defunct, it also crosses into awesome negligence that borders on the unforgivable, given our current economic challenges.

We would have loved to work on the conversion-focused design and development of the only official website in the UK that delivers help, advice and multiple form-filling for SMEs. But have you ever bid for a government contract? The procurement process is seemingly geared to soak up the total working cash of a growing company.

How’s that? Well, just engage with the process and you’ll find, as we and too many other growing companies do, that Government Contracts = Hours x Hours x Hours2.  Maybe that’s why the procurement specialists win – that’s all they do.

We’re specialists too, and we’ve worked hard to deliver the revenue-generating services our clients demand. We do spend Hours2 making sure that they are visible, connected, engaging and relevant. But we’ve never booked out our expertise at nearly £12,000 an hour, the base figure for the BusinessLink development – would you, even if you woke up in Procurement Heaven?

If ultra-specialism in procurement is the current game, then the Government has to step in – it’s wrong, dysfunctional, wasteful and self-serving. This is an undeniable truth.

This current gameplay mean that we very rarely offer our services for the UberContracts offered by the nation’s leaders – and I’d imagine that you have similar views. We all know that we can deliver projects at a fraction of the cost we witness when the figures are released by government. Frankly, that is a crime.

In the case of Business Link, the contract, after the standard, form-laden, tortuous process went to Serco – its business is outsourcing. Sounds good, agile development and contracts for hungry SMEs with proven expertise. That’s exactly what happened … more or less … well, less – the contract went to BT.

I’m not picking sour grapes here, just bewildered and angry that companies who would crawl a mile over broken glass for this kind of contract are just not even considered as candidates by a bureaucracy that inhabits a world of fear, early closure and early retirement.

What better way for the new Government to celebrate the engine of economic renewal (that’s us in the SME sector, by the way) than to ask one or three penetrating questions about how the £95,860 was spent each day. The first action would be to check the calendar – if it’s not December 25th, then that £35million invoice is worth a second look.

If they are really keen, 24/7 kinda guys, they could rip up the procurement bible and allow every SME to bid on a level playing field. You never know, they might even save us some money.

They would need a new bible, of course. Every bureaucracy needs something to blame. So, how about a bidding process that looked more towards the goals and vision, and less about covering civil service derrieres?

To me, it makes more sense to go with a company that, by its very size, would deliver a leaner budget and work mightily to contain costs. The focus (generally for under £1million) would be on the endgame.

Surely, that’s easy enough for theWhitehall geniuses: strategically plan, fluid tactics, build towards the goals, measure, adjust. We need conversion-focused, socially-enabled design, which, if I’m not wrong, this multi-million pound website, does not match.

We need a concerted effort to convince the new Government that the current procurement process is busted and that they can only win by changing it.

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