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Digby Barker, director for public sector recruitment, Sollerta Ltd

Ahead of this year's DSEi exhibition, Chris Shaw speaks to seminar presenter Dr Digby Barker, director for public sector recruitment, Sollerta Ltd.

CS: What is the difference between 'perceived' and 'real' barriers that SMEs face when selling to the public sector?
DB: The main perceived barrier is the idea that the Public Sector only buys from large, well-known companies whereas the UK MoD, for example, spends nearly £1billion directly with SMEs. An example of a real barrier on the SME side would be lack of pre-positioning ahead of selling opportunities and on the buyer's side would be failure to appreciate commercial realities, particularly regarding supply chain issues. We will be expanding on these points in our DSEi Seminar.

CS: What are the key developments in the UK which can help SMEs improve their chances of success?
DB: We are all hoping that the implementation of the Glover recommendations will improve matters significantly but Sollerta has pointed out to the OGC one key development that wasn't covered in the Report's recommendations. Another key issue for SMEs – although not limited to the Public Sector context – is how they protect their IPR when seeking a position as a sub-contractor to a Prime. The Public Sector's own contract requirements regarding IPR also play a part here. Also, the cost of tendering is likely to be relatively greater in relation to an SME's resources compared to those of a large company. This can be ameliorated to the extent that the tendering process is conducted efficiently and in line with the regulations and best practice: again, implementation of the Glover recommendations should help here.

CS: What effect will the implementation of the new EU Defence Directive have on public procurement?
DB: Defence Departments of course buy much more than just Tanks, Guns, Ships & Planes - in fact their procurement requirements are a cross-section of the public sector's total requirements for goods, services & works, that's why virtually all companies can aspire to sell to them. The Defence Directive is aimed at improving the cross-border opportunities where national security concerns have legitimately - and sometimes otherwise - been used as reasons for operating outside the Treaty or the Consolidated Procurement Directive and restricting competition to national suppliers. As the UK has by general consent one of the most open Defence markets, this should mean that the benefit to UK firms should be relatively great.

CS: How can supply chain performance in the security area be improved?
DB: Under the SecureSME programme, for which Sollerta Ltd is the UK representative, EU funds have been made available to facilitate the participation of SMEs in meeting EC security programme requirements by coaching them in the preparation of proposals . This will not only assist SMEs in bidding directy but also improve their chances of securing a place in the supply chain. The primary areas of interest of the Secure SME project are:
• searching for innovative products and processes
• investigating the feasibility of joint use of research by 2 or more SMEs,
• testing and evaluation of infrastructures in the security field
• SME integration systems

Sollerta Ltd is currently developing proposals for extending the SecureSME concept to address Supply Chain aspects of meeting EC requirements in the Security field. Sollerta will be expanding on these points in its DSEi seminar as well as covering developments in the UK.

CS: Will the defence & security sector emerge as a different beast when the economic downturn has past?
DB: Like most sectors it will doubtless be leaner. The major players' current emphasis on procurement of reconnaissance, surveillance and intelligence gathering capabilities at the expense of platforms means the larger defence companies will seek to follow the associated budget reallocations by acquiring SMEs with expertise in these areas. The Defence Directive will focus attention more keenly on the applicable Regulations and I suspect companies will be less willing to do nothing when it seems procurements have not been undertaken properly by the authorities concerned. The revised Remedies Directive might well add to such a trend.

Chris Shaw

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