Lucrative public sector contracts previously awarded to big national businesses are being opened up to Swindon’s small and medium-sized firms under a pioneering local procurement exercise.
The project, spearheaded by Swindon Council and Swindon & Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), aims to ease the process of bidding – and winning – contracts in areas such as estate management and temporary recruitment for smaller, local businesses.
Efforts are being made to harmonise buying methods, timetables and contracts used by the various public sector organisations in the town including the health service, fire and rescue and police as well as the council.
This would make it far easier for small firms with limited resources to apply for contracts across the public sector.
With major construction projects underway or due to start in and around Swindon, such as the construction of a £121m Defence College of Technical Training at the former RAF Lyneham base, continued housebuilding at Wichelstowe, the Kimmerfields town centre regeneration and the redevelopment of the leisure scheme at North Star, there would be plenty of opportunities for small firms.
The campaign is being supported by Business West, the business advice and help organisation that runs the Swindon & Wiltshire Initiative.
While austerity cuts imposed by central Government have forced town halls across the country to outsource far more services previously carried out in-house, many of these contracts have gone to national players.
However, by ensuring some of the smaller contracts go to local firms, council spending stays in the area and, in turn, boosts the local economy.
A pilot project has already been operating in Swindon for the past month looking at the type of public sector contracts suitable for local firms. This will now be expanded into more business areas.
The project was outlined by Paddy Bradley, head of economy and skills at Swindon Council, at last week’s Influence Swindon conference.
He said it was a “genuine approach to get the public and private sectors to work together”.
The Swindon and LEP areas had to grow faster than the national average to make up for the momentum lost during the recession, he told the conference.
“The engine for growth is the SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) community,” he said, pointing out that 80% of the economy was generated by these businesses.
At the same time, 80% of businesses in Swindon are SMEs and, due to the town’s economic make-up, there are more than four jobs in the town in the private sector to every one in the public sector – making it a private-sector driven economy, he said.
As a result, every £1 spent in local procurement brought an additional benefit of 63p to the town.