Is the government getting keener to help smaller companies, or falling even more in love with big ones? There was no consensus - for every company that saw evidence of the former, another argued there were moves to the latter.
On one hand, Steven Hale said, “scrapping BSF opened up those markets to SMEs”; on the other, Colin Brooks said, “I just get the impression that the government would be a happy if there was just one big company called Construction GB.”
Meanwhile, Martin Chambers cited how the US government mandates a certain proportion of defence contracts going to SMEs. David Le Lohe pointed to localism
encouraging companies who can show they have local workforces - though as Richard Garland argued when this gets down as far as a London borough, the practical
problems can be significant.
A lot of the talk was about perceived risk - small companies are angry that big clients think big companies are less risky to deal with and that somehow turnover
is a good indicator of stability. Rok and Connaught were held out as examples of this fallacy.
There was also a consistent theme that SMEs were the innovative lifeforce of the whole industry and the government needed to do more to recognise and support
that. This was felt most strongly by the companies involved in lowcarbon technology - particularly some who said clients and contractors were less focused on
sustainability than in the past - but it applied to all kinds of work.
Martin Chambers “Clients are perhaps not getting good advice and they take a contractor who has bid at a minus, but they are taking a risk as these firms may not be around to finish the job. But people don’t like giving bad news when they’re advising; they just think “this firm has beaten the target price”.
Paul Conway “I’m cynical - government policy is to deal with big companies who they think will be more efficient, but actually it just becomes more bureaucratic and
Tim Fenn “The regulation [on low carbon] is all over the place. The Germans have Passivhaus but in the UK the government can’t even define zero carbon. German and Swedish firms are knocking out sustainable homes at £1,000 per sq m but in the UK the issue is so unclear it’s like buying a car and not knowing how many miles to the gallon it will do.”
David Le Lohe “Defence Estates has seen the real value in the small companies delivering to the BAEs of this world. The big councils are totally the opposite, and
this means it’s very difficult for the middle ranged companies to compete.”