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Small firms should get more public work - MPs

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CONTRACTORS THIS week backed calls from the Commons public accounts committee to make it easier for small and medium sized firms to bid for public sector work.

The MPs also urged the government to improve in-house procurement skills by using professionally qualified staff.

They called for spending departments to make contracts more accessible to small and medium sized companies.

'(SMEs) may be able to offer better value for money through increased competition, local supply lines and greater flexibility and innovation, ' says a public accounts committee report published last week.

Contractors' body the Construction Confederation welcomed calls for more professionally qualified government procurement staff.

'We have been saying for a while that it is important to improve and increase procurement expertise. Any help that will be given to achieve that gets our support, ' said a Confederation spokesman.

The MPs acknowleged problems in encouraging small and medium sized businesses (SMEs). 'Engaging SMEs can be difficult due to the size of some contracts. However, in construction they may well come into contracts lower in the supply chain anyway, ' says the report.

The MPs call for greater SME involvement echoes concerns raised earlier this month in a report produced for the the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

It warned of a tendency towards discrimination against smaller firms through making submissions of tenders costly.

The report said prices charged to the government could be inflated because a relatively high workload is spread between relatively few firms. It suggested that the OFT carry out further investigations before deciding whether to call for changes in public procurement practice.

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