The Scottish Government is to roll out a digital procurement initiative which it says will make it easier for small businesses to bid for the £10 billion annual public-sector contract spend.
It is injecting £360,000 into its Supplier Development Programme, with the aim of "helping an additional 2,200 businesses of all sizes, across all sectors, develop their digital capability and be more efficient in bidding and fulfilling public contracts".
It says small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and third-sector businesses will be among those eligible for guidance on transacting electronically with the public sector, through events, training opportunities, and a new SDP website, set up with funding from the Scottish Government's Digital Scotland Business Excellence Partnership. The initiative also covers advice on attracting online trade, and has been welcomed by the Federation of Small Businesses.
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The roll-out of the programme will supplement existing services provided by Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Ready for Business and the Supplier Development Programme.
The Herald last month launched its SME-SOS campaign on key issues holding back Scotland's vital small-business sector, led by public procurement.
While the Scottish Goverment says 46 per cent of the £10bn a year public spend goes to "SMEs" - a claim repeated yesterday - the campaign has highlighted that this definition covers firms employing up to 250 staff or 99 per cent of all business in Scotland.
The FSB says micro-businesses with fewer than 10 staff account for 94 per cent of companies and 29 per cent of employment, but only 4 per cent of procurement spend.
Enterprise Minister Fergus Ewing said: "Earlier this month the Scottish Parliament passed the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill which means that public bodies will now have a duty to consider how they can facilitate the involvement of SMEs, third- sector bodies and supported businesses in procurements.
"This new funding for the Supplier Development Programme will play a key role in helping suppliers participate in procurement exercises, and is a great example of public services in Scotland working together to develop our economic capacity."
Mr Ewing added: "Working in partnership with the enterprise agencies, local authorities and other public bodies, we are committed to proactively supporting Scottish suppliers and want to help them meet the requirements of public bodies."
The programme would also contribute to the development of digital business skills that would help Scottish business compete in the global market, the minister said.
Andy Willox, Scottish policy convenor at the FSB, said: "Alongside moves to encourage a more proportional approach from buyers, we warmly welcome extra support to ensure small enterprises deliver polished bids.
"Further, by supporting small Scottish businesses to develop better digital skills, we give them the opportunity to capitalise on the investment the country is making in digital infrastructure. Scottish small businesses, no matter their size or sector, can use information technology to level the playing-field with their much larger competitors."
Councillor Chris Thompson, chairman of the Supplier Development Programme and of South Lanarkshire Council's Enterprise Services Committee, said: "The support from the Scottish Government will allow SDP to enhance the support we provide to SMEs.
"It will also let us explore new, innovative ways to allow businesses access to public-sector contracts."
Mr Thompson added: "The fact that the Scottish Government is supporting SDP shows that they have confidence in the work that we are doing and wish to roll this out across Scotland and to build on our previous success."