Suffolk: FSB calls for openness on council procurement SME spend

SMALL business leaders are calling on councils to keep records on their ‘huge’ procurement budgets so that it’s possible to see how much they are spending locally.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) fears small and medium-sized enterprises could be losing out because of a lack of a cohesive approach to where local authorities, including Suffolk County Council, spend their money.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) carried out a poll of all local councils to see how and where they spend their estimated �88billion worth of procurement funds.

In 2011/12, Suffolk County Council spent around �430million on contracted for goods, services and works. However, it said it did not record information “in such a way as to readily identify how much is spent locally given that our definition of ‘local’ is an organisation whose registered office is within the geographical county of Suffolk”.

“We do however, deal with several suppliers who operate in Suffolk, mainly care firms, taxi suppliers, equipment maintenance firms, bookshops and a number of food suppliers,” it said.

The FSB found 38% of the 148 poll respondants did not actively record locations of firms and 49% did not know the size of the business it was trading with.

The Suffolk branch of the FSB is pressing the county council to work out a way to record the type of business it is spending its money with and to simplify its system to make it easier for SMEs to register for local authority contracts.

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Simon Sanders, the lead on procurement at Suffolk FSB, said communication was a problem. He found seven different local authority websites pointing to five different databases for the county’s SMEs to register for local authority contracts.

The FSB is working with the county council, which has agreed to look at how other authorities have collated the figures, and hopes a meeting with the authority on Thursday is “the first step” in opening up procurement data.

“We have pointed out to them that other authorities have been able to come up with those statistics and we have asked them to come up with those statistics,” said Mr Sanders. “Suffolk County Council has a big budget and there will be certain areas they can’t spend with us, but others where they can. If possible, let’s keep it local.”

He added: “They are making steps and we have got to say ‘well done’ for that.”