Updated Small businesses have often moaned that government procurement is just one massive pork barrel, with only the greediest and biggest able to stick their snouts in.
But some departments are doing their best to carve up tenders into smaller, more manageable chunks. Step forward the UK's Crown Prosecution Service, which threw a morsel to smaller suppliers in the form of the chance to bid for a £3 USB cable.
"Please can you source a USB A Male to Male cable," read the invite to suppliers to bid – known as a request for quotation (RFQ). In case suppliers were in any doubt, it helpfully added a link to Amazon to demonstrate the item, which came with a £3 unit price.
One supplier, who asked not to be named, said: "This single [notice] exemplifies what is wrong with UK public sector procurement. The usual suspects on the gravy-train get all the good deals.
"Meanwhile, in order to show they are 'giving business to SMEs' the government sends out completely pointless RFQs."
He added that suppliers literally receive "hundreds of stupid RFQs per month" that are not worth their time to reply to because the margins are so minuscule, such as a request for one monitor or single ergonomic keyboard. "But I've never received one quite as utterly ludicrous as this, it represents a new low for the government!"
Despite repeated lip service by the government promising to hand more contracts to SMEs, little progress has been made to improve procurement practises. Last year the National Audit Office watchdog said it continues to see larger providers dominating. "For example, the government's top five IT providers received over half of government's total spending on contracted out IT."
In August 2015, the Cabinet Office increased the target for SME spending from 25 per cent to 33 per cent by 2020.
The Register asked why the CPS is inviting suppliers into a bidding process via an RFQ for something so small. And whether this is something it could have just bought on its procurement card for purchases up to £500.
A spokesman said: "We have strict processes in place to ensure the right contracts are used to buy goods and services, or there is an appropriate and proportionate competition to select a supplier. On this occasion an RFQ was issued in error and this item should have been ordered via an existing contract." ®