MoD reducing paperwork and pre-contract checks for small defence suppliers, Minister confirms to Jesse

Jesse Norman with Defence Minister Philip DunneHereford and South Herefordshire MP Jesse Norman took the opportunity to speak up for local defence suppliers in the House of Commons yesterday.

Jesse highlighted the difficulties that smaller defence firms often face when trying to supply the MoD, and urged the Department to continue to cut back on bureaucracy and prime contractors' on-costs.

The Minister, Philip Dunne, responded by saying that he was ‘determined’ to help small and medium sized enterprises access defence opportunities, and that the MoD were reducing the volume of paperwork and pre-contract checks that SMEs will have to complete in order to supply the military. He also said that MoD spend on small and medium sized businesses had risen to 15% of all contracts.

Jesse has long pressed the MoD for more support for smaller businesses. In December 2013, Jesse brought the Minister to meet a delegation of local defence firms at Gardner Hall, part of the Royal National College for the Blind. And Jesse is regularly called on to assist local firms who have specific problems with MoD procurement.

Speaking outside the Commons, Jesse said:
“Herefordshire has many highly innovative small and medium sized firms providing specialist goods and expertise to the MoD. They provide vital new technologies and training for our troops, and they are generally in very close contact with developing needs on and around the battlefield. But I know from talking with them that historically, they have sometimes found it difficult to do business with the MoD.

“I am really pleased that the Minister is listening to their concerns, and are now taking real steps to bring down the barriers that SMEs face in supplying our armed forces.”

The full text of Jesse’s question is below:

Military Procurement
Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire) (Con): What steps he is taking to support small contractors in military procurement. [903043]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Dunne): I recognise that small businesses are an important source of innovation and flexibility in meeting defence and security requirements. I am determined to help small and medium-sized enterprises access defence opportunities, including standardising and simplifying our procurement systems. So from this month we are minimising the use of pre-qualification questionnaires and increasing use of standard contract templates for low-risk requirements of under £100,000.

We are regularly making progress on these and other SME initiatives, but we also need to inform the SME community that it is getting easier to do business with the Ministry of Defence, which is why we publish the SME action plan on the gov.uk website and why I am undertaking a series of regional visits to talk to SMEs, such as the excellent event that my hon. Friend hosted in Hereford on 6 December 2013.

Jesse Norman: I very much thank my hon. Friend for that reply and for the extremely encouraging news that he has described. There are a large number of specialist defence suppliers in my constituency in Herefordshire. They provide vital new technologies and training for the troops, but they often face huge and apparently unnecessary mark-ups and delays forced on them by the requirement to be part of prime contracts. What can the MOD do to help these companies compete more fairly?

Mr Dunne: I agree with my hon. Friend that SMEs have an important role to play across defence procurement, but in particular in new technologies and in training. That is why the Government are committed to increasing the proportion of our annual spend on SMEs. Last year that rose to 15% by value of all spend, with some £1 billion spent directly and £2 billion spent indirectly through larger prime contractors, but the proportion of new contracts is even greater with over a third of all new contracts placed with SMEs in each of the last three years.

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