Government appoints entrepreneur to role aimed at increasing public contracts won by small businesses

Government appoints entrepreneur to role aimed at increasing public contracts won by small businesses
Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events

Posted: Mon 19th Feb 2024

Legal entrepreneur Shirley Cooper has been appointed as the government's new Crown Representative for small businesses, a role aimed at improving small businesses' access to public sector contracts.

Taking over from Martin Traynor, who was in the role for five years, Cooper is focused on making sure the government gets best value from SMEs, and that they in turn have the best possible opportunity to work with the public sector.

In 2011, the entrepreneur co-founded start-up law firm Tapestry. She was also global procurement director of Impellam, board adviser to Lorien Resourcing, procurement and supply chain director of Computacenter, and president of the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply.

In her new role, Cooper's key job is supporting ministers in increasing central government spend with small businesses.

The latest figures show SMEs won £21bn worth of work from government departments in 2021/22, an increase of £1.7bn on the previous year, but the proportion of contracts awarded to smaller firms declined from from 26.9% in 2020/21 to 26.5% in 2021/22.

Direct spending by government with SMEs also fell in 2021/22 from 14.2% to 12.3%, while indirect spend, when smaller businesses deliver work to a larger company with a public sector contract, increased from 12.7% to 14.1%.

Procurement Act

Last year, the government's Procurement Act received Royal Assent. It aims to make it easier for small businesses to win public sector contracts.

Under the changes, which come into force in October this year, all departments and public bodies will be required to consider SMEs when designing their procurements.

Other features of the Act are:

  • a new central platform showing contracts by region

  • a single website for registration rather than the multiple sites firms currently have to use to bid for work

  • reduced insurance costs before a supplier has bid for a contract

  • strengthening of late payment rules so suppliers receive payment within 30 days

Shirley Cooper OBE said:

"I am delighted to take up this role and build on the work of my predecessor, Martin Traynor.

"I look forward to working with colleagues across government to make sure small businesses can seize the fantastic opportunities available to them in the public procurement process."

Parliamentary secretary Alex Burghart added:

"I am delighted to welcome Shirley to this role. Small businesses are vital to our economy and I look forward to working with her to make sure our procurement regime is fully accessible to them.

"Shirley's appointment comes at a critical time for small businesses with reforms of the Procurement Act, which will dismantle barriers to them competing for government contracts, coming into force later this year."

Relevant resources

How to sell to government with Deloitte Digital

Guide to the Procurement Act

Supplying the public sector

Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events
I'm a freelance journalist and event host who helps small businesses and the organisations that support them. I'm also Enterprise Nation's news reporter and Bristol Local Leader. I have 20 years of experience as a small business journalist having interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs from famous names like Sir Richard Branson and Deborah Meaden to the founders behind brand new start-ups. I've worked for a range of leading small business publications and support groups, most recently as head of content at Enterprise Nation where I was responsible for the prolific output of content on the company's blog and social media. I now freelance for Enterprise Nation as the website's news reporter and as the host of the Small Business sessions podcast. I'm based in Bristol where I run and host regular events with the local small business community in my role as Enterprise Nation's Local Leader for Bristol. I also have strong connections with other major business organisations in the south west region. In total, I've hosted over 100 events including conferences with an audience of hundreds for international brands like Xero and Facebook and live web chats from inside 10 Downing Street. With my partner, I co-run Lifestyle District, a lifestyle blog focused on culture, art, theatre and photography.

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