Public sector lacks skills and confidence to buy more from smaller companies

public sector procurementA new survey from techUK, the trade association that represents technology companies in the UK, claims that while civil servants see IT as key to delivering their mission, they don’t think their departments  have the right skills and culture to enable digital transformation of public services. This extends to the way goods and services are procured with particular consequences for smaller suppliers. Of the 929 Civil Servants surveyed for the study, less than 1 percent of respondents see IT as an overhead, while over three quarters believe it to be a necessity. However, there remain significant barriers to technology adoption. Over three quarter (68 percent) claim that having the right skills internally is critical to improving the procurement process; but only 20 percent agree their department has the skills and capabilities to manage suppliers.

The current Government administration says that it remains committed to its predecessor’s goal of increasing the proportion of small businesses. It has set itself a target for SMEs’ share of central government procurement to one-third. However, 33 per cent of Civil Servants are unsure if their departments want to procure more services from SMEs, and only 19 per cent confirmed they have access to a wide range of suppliers.

Julian David, CEO of techUK said: “Technology has a key role in helping government deliver more for less and it’s great to see such widespread acknowledgement of the benefits technology has to offer. However, these results show that there is a greater need for better engagement with industry, better information and more innovation in order to truly transform our public services. Civil Servants’ lack of confidence is demonstrated in the focus on getting the best out of existing technologies and approaches rather than seeking to embrace new and disruptive technologies from a range of suppliers.

“Government has a vital role as a purchaser to support the growth of small businesses and the wider digital economy. Creating a level playing field is critical to delivering more value for the taxpayer. Minister Hancock has already demonstrated a commitment to digital and we look forward to working with him and the Government Digital Service to build on the successes of the last five years to help develop a civil service that is more open, innovative and collaborative.”

Key findings of the survey include:

Technology Adoption

  • 86 per cent of respondents state that IT suppliers are critical to delivering their department’s business plan
  • 63 per cent of senior staff view mobility as the greatest way to support efficiency in central government


  • 71 per cent of Civil Servants in key roles see internal culture as one of the biggest barriers
  • Over one-third of respondents involved in the design or procurement of IT services think that their department’s capabilities in change leadership, innovative thinking and digital capability are unsatisfactory or poor

Informed Purchasing

  • There is widespread support for contact with suppliers before, during and after the procurement process
  • Only 18 per cent believe there is sufficient pre-procurement engagement

To help the new government overcome the challenges highlighted in the survey, techUK’s Public Services Board has identified four areas that need to be addressed in the next five years to make the UK a global leader in delivering digital public services. The industry outlook calls on the new Conservative government to:

  • Deliver better public services for less through smart use of digital technology
  • Address Government’s ageing infrastructure and Technical Debt to enable wholesale transformation
  • Understand the role of disruptive technology to deliver digital by default services
  • Develop the right culture, skills and capability to become a more demanding buyer