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Small businesses get free access to government contracts site

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Every small business in the UK is to have free access to thousands of lower value government contracts, it has been announced.

The government’s website advertises thousands of public sector procurement opportunities worth up to £100,000.

The site, however, was only available to those firms that paid a yearly subscription fee that could rise to as much as £180.

Last year, the government piloted a three-month no-fee trial for the service. Now the fee is to be dropped indefinitely, allowing small businesses to make use of the details on the site for free.

The move is a step towards delivering on a key recommendation, outlined in the Glover Review of SME participation in public sector procurement, that by the end of 2010 all public sector contracts should be accessible through a single, free online web portal.

Since it was launched in June 2006, has published more than 132,000 contracts, many under the value of £100,000, making them particularly relevant to SMEs.

The total value of public sector contracts is £175 billion each year.

Business Minister, Shriti Vadera said: “We want to support small businesses by making it easier to access the thousands of government procurement opportunities that are directly relevant to them.

“This free service is an interim step along the way to introducing a single website for all public sector contracts next year.”

Ian Pearson, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, commented: “Small and medium sized businesses are a crucial part of the UK economy and in these challenging times it is essential that we support them in as many ways as possible.

“By introducing a free to use national search service we are helping to create a level playing field on which SMEs can compete with their larger counterparts. This will realise benefits for SMEs, the economy as a whole, and help drive further innovation in public services.”

Debasish Sen, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Trade and Industry committee member, added: “The FSB has been working closely with the government to put better policies on procurement in place and we welcome this first step to create a free, national, on-line portal that small firms can use to apply for public sector contracts next year.

“FSB research shows that half of SMEs do not tender for public contracts because the process is too complicated and the contracts are too difficult to find in the first place. Making free to access is a first step in the right direction.”

Value added services, such as daily email alerts, will continue to require a subscription fee.