SMEs are missing out on large chunks of local authority business because they are not using a recognised quality management system.

“Total public expenditure on external services is about £150 billion annually” said Clive Bonny, an independent consultant who runs Strategic Management Partners Ltd in Hove, East Sussex. “The public sector market is about 40% of gross domestic product – yet SMEs, which make up about 85% of the business market, have been excluded from this expenditure. Now SMEs are being encouraged by the government to take part in public sector work.”

Business minister Mark Frisk has backed the responsible business standard run by the Organisation for Responsible Business (ORB) as part of the government’s drive to ensure that 25% of departments’ external purchasing goes to SMEs. “The Public Services Act which came in this year imposes a duty on councils to show that their suppliers can give evidence of good practice in environmental and social responsibility – which is what this standard is all about,” Mr Bonny explained.

“A recognised quality management system is a pre-requirement in bidding for local authority business and the pre-qualification questionnaire for tenders. The responsible business standard satisfies that requirement.” The standard was launched last June

SMEs interested in the standard can go to a website where they can assess themselves against its requirements in a 30 minute, free process. They can then contact the ORB, which can help businesses “move along at their own pace,” according to Mr Bonny. The ORB can also recommend accredited advisers to choose from, one of which is Mr Bonny.