By Annette McIntyre
Procurement of public services is a £300 billion market nationally – but many smaller businesses are missing out on securing contracts.
For many the process can be too cumbersome and complicated, so they give up before they have even started. But help is available.
Go4Growth was set up with the aim of helping to ensure that any business can take part in procurement opportunities, regardless of size or sector.
And by ensuring that smaller businesses and organisations are given the same opportunities as their bigger rivals Go4Growth is working to have a positive economic impact on local areas.
The company was set up by Gillian Askew, Sheri-Leigh Miles and Jimmy Brannigan in 2020.
Gillian, who has been a procurement professional for 30 years, said: “One of my long-standing professionalisms has been around socio-economic procurement. How procurement can do good.”
She said nearly £300 billion a year of taxpayer’s money was spent in the public sector. She stressed the importance of making sure the money worked as hard as it could to produce positive social and environmental impacts.
She explained: “One of the themes especially in the public sector is that while our job in procurement is to inspire competition, what you generally see is the same providers winning contracts time and time and time again. And often they’re large providers.”
Gillian was invited by the Federation of Small Businesses in 2019 to set up a special interest group, which Jimmy was also part of, looking at widening participation for small businesses in the public sector.
She said: “What we found was that in the public sector procurement space there are a lot of talented procurement professionals with really big ambitions on this widening participation agenda.”
In the marketplace there were lots of really talented voluntary sector organisations and small businesses,” she said.
“But the reality is there’s a disconnect between those two communities. Procurement can’t access that talent and that talent can’t access the public sector.”
“So effectively we sit in the middle of those two communities and work to bring those two communities together.”
Go4Growth is a fully remote business, with its three directors living in York, Scarborough, and Barnsley. Gillian, who is now based in Barnsley, describes herself as a “Bradford girl born and bred”.
She said: “I lived the first 26 years of my life in a Bradford postcode, Bradford is my heritage city. And I worked in Bradford until I was 28, so it was particularly important to me to work with the City of Bradford because it’s where I grew up.”
She said Go4Growth had worked to build an evidence-based database identifying what the barriers are that businesses face when they want to work for the public sector.
They then use that intelligence in two ways. Firstly, they support the businesses at source to help them overcome obstacles. But they also return the intelligence to their clients, such as Bradford Metropolitan District Council, to show them where the problems are. They advise on how to introduce changes to remove the barriers that prevent local providers doing business with the public sector.
Gillian said Go4Growth aimed to increase the business that the public sector could do in its local business community – with the positive economic impact that would bring to the local community.
The company works for four local authorities in Yorkshire and the Humber, and its next biggest region is London, where it works for the NHS. It is hoping to expand more across Yorkshire to work with the big anchor institutions.
Bradford Council currently has a live procurement to support living at home. And any provider in Bradford who wants to take part in that procurement but who is struggling with the process can get help from Go4Growth.
“We are independent of the council so it’s a confidential conversation,” Gillian said. “We don’t tell the council what conversations we have.”
In addition, any provider in Bradford can get help and advice from Go4Growth on any procurement anywhere.
The business also works with the voluntary sector and is currently supporting a series of roadshows for Bradford-based voluntary sector organisations to let them know what support is on offer.
“And of course, providers don’t pay anything for our support,” Gillian said. “In paying Go4Growth Bradford Council effectively funds the support. “We don’t charge providers to come to us. They can come from any sector or any size for any kind of process support In the public sector and they get it all free of charge.”
For smaller organisations the bidding process could be complicated and bureaucratic.
“So smaller organisations face multiple challenges. It takes a long time to write a bid. It takes just as long in my view to write a bid that’s worth £10,000 as it does to write a bid worth £100,000.
“We are often time poor in small businesses, so it’s really tough, and often our skill set is around – and quite rightly so – what we do for a living. “So, if you are a voluntary sector organisation running after school clubs you’ll be really good at running after school clubs. But you may not be very good at all or even know anything about the processes of bidding or accessing grant funding,”
Gillian said both types of applications could be difficult and sometimes “might as well be written in a foreign language”.
“Those are the problems smaller businesses are facing when they want to work in the public sector. The asks are complicated, they’re big, and it often feels like it’s the fastest race to the bottom in terms of price.”
She said lots of smaller providers walk away before they even try.
She stressed: “We want money in borough to stay in borough. That’s really what every authority wants, and what every anchor area wants. “That’s how you regenerate a local economic landscape, by having access to good education and access to good employment.”
“Bradford Council spend nearly £400 million a year on goods and services. And if you’re a Bradford business and you’re not getting a share of that then that money is potentially going out of the Bradford area.
She added: “So what Bradford really wants is to award as much work as they can to local Bradford providers, so that upskills the Bradford workforce and that puts the money back into the Bradford area.
“But it’s much more challenging for smaller organisations than it is for the larger ones.”
Go4Growth provide different ways for people to access support.
“So, we do have an online platform that is available 24/7, you can use that to work out what your gaps are, and the kind of things you want to know more about,” Gillian said.
The platform includes a variety of free resources, including templates, and tutorial videos.
“If working digitally is more difficult for you, you can come and have a 30-minute chat with us. You can ring us or email, or you can go onto YouTube, if you want to watch a video. Or you can read a guidance document.”
She said Go4Growth was not the only growth support company. But she believes some others offer a growth programme of support that businesses have to fit into.
“Whereas we try to flip that on its head. We have a triage call for example with businesses that want to chat to us. And that’s for us to find out what your ambitions are, what you’re trying to achieve. And then we’ll guide you through the programme in a way that is personalised and relevant to you and your requirements. We don’t want you to wade through treacle.”
She added: “We don’t want them to have to become experts. What we want is for them to have enough knowledge, enough confidence and enough actual help so they can get over the line.”
Gillian has a message for businesses in Bradford.
“Our message to everybody is it’s a good sector to work for, it’s stable, there will always be procurement of public services, it is a £300 billion market. And if it feels too difficult but you’re interested in it – don’t worry you’re not alone. We can help you. Our door is open – come and chat to us.”