Monday 19 March 2018

New guidelines on public tenders to help SMEs compete

Done Deal: All the latest news and help for SMEs

LEAN ON: Facebook COO and 'Lean In' author Sheryl Sandberg with journalist Edel Coffey last week. Photo: Mark Condren
LEAN ON: Facebook COO and 'Lean In' author Sheryl Sandberg with journalist Edel Coffey last week. Photo: Mark Condren

'Public tenders' was the phrase of the week for small businesses, as the Government issued guidelines designed to make it easier for smaller firms to bid for public contracts.

The new guidelines unveiled on Thursday include the sub-dividing of larger contracts into lots to enable SMEs to bid for those smaller opportunities, as well as encouraging businesses to form consortia when they are not of sufficient scale to tender in their own right.

They followed a damning condemnation by business body Chambers Ireland about the way public contracts are awarded.

Small and medium enterprises are at a huge disadvantage when they tender for these contracts, the organisation said. Government officials favour the bidder with the lowest prices over any other consideration, chief executive Ian Talbot argued, which puts SMEs at a distinct disadvantage because they can't compete when it comes to economies of scale. This is one of the reason why 8.8pc of Irish public tenders are awarded to foreign companies, he said, in comparison to an EU average of 3.5pc.

Thursday was a big day for SMEs for lots of reasons. Ulster Bank revealed that it has launched an investigation into allegations that some viable businesses were pushed into default unnecessarily by its controversial Global Restructuring Group, so it could charge high fees and buy assets at a discount. Ulster Bank disputes the allegations.

Dublin law firm Mason Hayes and Curran is carrying out the probe. Businesses with concerns about how their loans were handled are invited to contact the solicitors on a confidential basis.

The announcement followed the release of findings from a similar investigation into RBS in the UK and Northern Ireland, which found no evidence of such behaviour.

The matter first came to public attention following a report by multi-millionaire British businessman Lawrence Tomlinson, special adviser to UK business secretary Vince Cable, who claimed RBS was "killing off" small businesses for its own profit,

In lighter news, medical technology start-ups received a boost in the form of an innovative new deal between Enterprise Ireland and prestigious US hospital group The Mayo Clinic. The agreement will develop 10 spin-off companies in Ireland based on Mayo Clinic inventions.

The Government will provide about €12m to the project, which will see Irish researchers develop and commercialise novel medical technologies first developed in the US. The deal is also supported by Irish investment fund ACT Capital and New York-based Aisling Venture Capital.

The first project is already under way in NUI Galway, where a prototype is being developed, based on a device invented by the Mayo Clinic for the treatment of acute pancreatitis. There is huge commercial opportunity in the treatment of acute pancreatitis, a disease on which patients spend about €3m on in the US alone.

It has no widely accepted treatment.

"Mayo is committed to improving medicine throughout the world for the benefit of patients everywhere.

"This collaboration with Enterprise Ireland provides a unique way of furthering the research and development of novel technologies that have high potential to make a difference in patient care, alleviating the burdens of human disease," said Jeff Bolton, vice president of the Mayo Clinic.

The deal doesn't just benefit Ireland, he said.

"We expect that this collaboration will pay dividends in the United States as the commercialised technologies will be sold in the US for the benefit of patients. We also expect that many of these companies will create a US presence in and around one or more of Mayo's practice sites."

Small businesses interested in bulking up their social networking presence also got good news this week.

Facebook is set to double the number of sales and marketing staff at its Dublin operations servicing the SME sector as part of an overall expansion this year.

The company plans to raise total Irish staff numbers to 1,000 when it moves to new, bigger offices at Grand Canal Square in July.

By the end of this year more than 60 of these staff will be working with the SME sector, up from the current 30.

The news was announced by none other than Facebook chief operations officer Sheryl Sandberg, the author of feminist handbook Lean In.

She told an audience of Irish small business owners that they made up a "huge percentage of jobs growth and are contributing to the economic recovery".

She was in Dublin to launch Facebook's European 'SME client council' – a platform to connect SMEs with Facebook executives to improve the company's offering to small business.

Sunday Indo Business

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