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13 November 2011 | Adam Leach
Conflicting ambitions in policies and party pledges have left confusion
over government targets for SME spend, according to a former central government
Colin Cram, founding member of Cabinet Office Central Unit on
Purchasing, a forerunner to the Efficiency and Reform Group, believes various
publications and position papers give conflicting views as to whether targets
are set by spend or number of contracts. He also called for more clarity on whether
promoting SMEs in public procurement is a policy or an aspiration.
One of the inconsistencies, cited by Cram, concerns the government’s
evidence to the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee and its
subsequent response to the peers’ report. Giving evidence, a government
representative indicated there was an aspiration to award 25 per cent of
contracts by number to SMEs. Later, following the committee’s report the
government stated that the aspiration was for 25 per cent in value terms.
Cram feels that this inconsistency among others means funding given to
SMEs could vary significantly. Cram said that John Collington’s Efficiency and
Reform Group had done a lot of good work so far but would like to see
government be clearer about what it aims to award to SMEs through public
In addition he believes coalition policy should work with the wider
public sector to develop an overall target, as opposed to just focusing on its
own spending pot. In September, a report by Future Purchasing and Henley
Business School claimed procurement reform could save the public sector £37 billion
this parliament. The report called for “much higher government leadership”
across the whole public sector in order to deliver the savings.
Cram also questioned the strength of the government’s motivation to
meet the target as it is classed as an “aspiration” rather than a ”policy”.
Drawing on his years as a civil servant, he told SM: “If you’re a civil servant
in Whitehall you know that an aspiration actually means no policy whatsoever.
It’s straight out of [the TV show]
“Yes Minister”, the word ‘aspiration’.”