26 September 2023

Ombudsman to buy into procurement rules

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The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman has launched an Inquiry to examine the impact of reforms to Commonwealth procurement rules on small businesses.

The Ombudsman, Bruce Billson said that in 2021-22, the Australian Government awarded $80.8 billion in procurement contracts, of which 30.8 per cent (or just under $25 billion) was awarded to small and medium sized enterprises.

“It’s great to see the Australian Government’s commitment to be a bigger customer for small businesses,” Mr Billson said.

“But for many small and family businesses, identifying and securing Commonwealth procurement contracts can be complex, costly, confusing and time-consuming,” he said.

“Supporting the opportunity for small and family businesses to compete for and fully participate in supplying the goods and services the Australian Government needs helps to ensure full value for money, vitality in the economy, support for local businesses to scale and can enable innovation.”

Mr Billson said that where there were procurement impediments it could diminish opportunities to encourage entrepreneurship and competition and meant taxpayers and the nation may not be getting the most value for their money.

He said he wanted to identify the Departments and Agencies that were exemplars in providing procurement opportunities to small businesses to celebrate their success and help others to emulate it.

“Similarly, we seek to shine a light on those whose dealings with small business are poor,” the Ombudsman said.

“The review will seek to identify additional changes to Commonwealth procurement rules and processes to boost small business participation,” he said.

“The review will also examine the effectiveness of AusTender, the Commonwealth Contracting Suite, methods for identifying small businesses and other measures to enable small businesses to join together to bid for larger and multi-faceted contracts and how accessible rolling short-listed provider ‘panels’ are for smaller businesses.”

Mr Billson said a particular concern frequently raised by small businesses was how to know about, and tender for, Government contracts.

“We want to look at what support is given to small businesses to navigate what can be a complicated procurement process,” he said.

“In some cases, small businesses are deterred by a feeling there is a ‘closed shop’ while in other cases they simply don’t know about the opportunities available, or the size of the contract can be simply too big.

Mr Billson said his investigation report, with recommendations, is to be given to the Government in December.

The Ombudsman’s Terms of Reference can be accessed at this PS News link.

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