The six-month Local Procurement Pilot, unveiled on Friday (27 September) by Minister for Small Business Damien Tudehope, follows a change in procurement rules for local government introduced in June this year.
Under that change, the threshold at which councils can liaise with local businesses for work without needing to go through the formal tender process was increased from $150,000 to $250,000.
Now the state government has developed a “toolkit” aimed at assisting SMEs to win contracts with councils, while simultaneously “providing tips to local councils on how they can become more small business-friendly”, Mr Tudehope said.
“This is a great opportunity for local businesses to tender for local government work and boost local economies.”
Minister for Local Government Shelley Hancock said that several councils within the state have expressed interest in the program to date, including Campbelltown City, Central Coast, Eurobodalla Shire and Georges River councils.
“I encourage all NSW local councils to get involved in this fantastic program and see more of their contracts secured by their local small businesses,” she said.
On the business-facing side, a guide called “Doing Business with Your Local Council” has been developed, featuring information on the difference between quotes, tenders and collaborative tenders; where local council opportunities can be found; advice on how to be looked on more favourably as a supplier; and a three-step checklist for compiling and submitting a quote to a council.
The guide, available on the small business section of the NSW government website, also includes links to third-party procurement providers and state government tenders.
More needed across Australia
Daniel Lai, CEO of information security and collaboration firm archTIS, welcomed the move, but said more is needed to help level the playing field for Australian SMEs to secure government contracts.
“It’s great to see the NSW Government take some concrete steps towards helping encourage and support small businesses to work more closely with councils and provide more jobs with the introduction of this new pilot program,” he said.
“The reality is, however, Australia’s small business sector has faced many challenges over the years in gaining traction particularly given hostile policy and regulatory settings that have had negative consequences on their ability to grow in a competitive market.
“What is now needed is to extend this conversation, particularly to a national level. Are we really to believe that the Australian federal Government have a comprehensive strategy to address and support the Australian tech start-up and small business industry, one that has been time and again been let down?”
According to Mr Lai, more recognition of limited procurement to SMEs is needed, particularly at a federal level.
“We need open dialogues between small business and the Australian government at both a state and federal level that can help support and grow start-ups across the country and turn them into real export earning and job creating businesses,” he said.
“We see this particularly pronounced in the defence industry, where securing major contracts either directly with Defence or as part of the supply chain to prime contractors is a serious challenge for over 3000 SMEs operating in this sphere across the country.”
He added: “The current procurement policy process of federal government does not promote innovation or assist Australian small businesses, and instead we must move to adopt an Australian technology-first policy. Only then can we hope to make our small business sector achieve its potential by becoming both more innovative and competitive.”