In conversation with Julian Cobley: supporting local business through the procurement process

How does your role at Cheshire Skills & Growth Company link to the procurement function at Cheshire East Council?

Cheshire East Council spends in the region of £260 million on contracts, supplies and services each year and it recognises local businesses should have equal opportunity to secure contracts.  The Skills & Growth Company, a wholly owned copy of the Council, work closely with colleagues in the Council’s procurement team to provide businesses with the training and support they need to bid to public sector procurements.  We do this by delivering workshops, encourage registrations on supplier platforms (e.g. the Chest) and making available case study’s to promote success stories. Our primary objective is to remove as many barriers as possible for local businesses so small to medium enterprises have the best possible chance to win public sector contracts

In your view, what do you see as the biggest obstacle in the way of small businesses winning public sector contracts and why?

It is perceived by many businesses that tendering and frameworks to supply to the public sector is a lengthy and complex process with limited chance of success. Often this perception stops SMEs from both looking and applying for opportunities.  Coupled with negative media stories or hearing experiences from unsuccessful applicants it is a widespread belief that only established companies with the right connections, or large businesses, have a chance of winning public sector contracts.  This isn’t true and will a little help and we can turn this perception on its head.

If you could change an aspect of public sector procurement, what would it be and why?

The public sector needs to comply with laws and regulations when awarding contracts, which the private sector may not do. Often this means public sectors contract opportunities consider much more than just the price and a bidder will be asked quite detailed information about their business. More needs to be done at the start of the procurement process to prepare small businesses for tendering and to communicate the scale opportunities, which are huge.

The Skills and Growth Company provides free tendering training to boost local business, can you explain what this entails and how else you support SME’s?

The Skills and Growth Company provide comprehensive support to local businesses to maximise growth, funding and investment opportunities; increase the availability and take-up of apprenticeships, support people into work, help to create jobs and stimulate economic growth and innovation. Over the past 2 years we have helped create over 2,000 new jobs; with businesses we have worked with committing to investment plans of over £94m. Put simply, we believe that every business deserves the opportunity to thrive.

Each year we run an events programme to boost the prospects of local businesses. This year our programme includes “Digital 2020+” Digital Marketing, “Getting Investment Ready” and our highly acclaimed Public Sector Procurement Masterclasses. With our September Procurement Masterclass oversubscribed places for  December 2018 and March 2019 are going fast.

The Procurement Masterclasses will explain to SMEs in Cheshire East how public sector procurement works, how to identify the best opportunities for their businesses and how to write a winning bid. It is suitable for businesses new to the public sector tendering process and those looking to improve how they tender. The one-day programme  to cover the whole process from start to finish, focusing on three key areas: Find – Seeking out for best tendering opportunities; Bid – Practical bid management skills; and Win – Ways to ensure your bid submission is a winning one.

Businesses taking part will take-away helpful and practical advice including; understanding the public sector procurement processes; how to present their finances; Identify their strengths, weaknesses and selling points; techniques that make the bid process efficient and effective.

Julian Cobley is the Managing Director at the Skills and Growth Company, and will be speaking on the importance of getting ‘big ready’ and fostering pre-engagement with your local market, at the Public Sector Solutions Expo on 20 November. To register or find out more, please click here.