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GBA and Government procurement policy

The government has asked the Gay Business Association to suggest ways they can improve the procurement environment for LGBT businesses and SMEs.

Here is a summary of your responses

_____________________________________

Discrimination

LGBT business owners don't want special treatment or 'affirmative action'. We do want 'positive action'.

However, companies with a history of discriminatory behaviour could be excluded from tendering.

 

Employment law

Employment Law supporting for LGBT workers was appreciated.

Discrimination still faced at a personal level.

 

Procurement process

Current procurement processes are too onerous for micro-businesses.

Would benefit from tiered tendering, where micro-businesses compete against similar sized enterprises.

Reduce red tape and form-filling on environment or Health & safety policies for SMEs.

More training for procurement specialists in LGBT issues.

Publishing good case studies would help. More use of pre-qualification questionnaires.

 

Finance

Government could help with simpler credit guarantees.

Some reluctance from banks and credit cards to serve 'adult' businesses.

In the past the GBA found little homophobic discrimination from banks, but business plans must be sound.

 

GBA

Could the GBA act as a tendering body and sub-contact to its members?

We need to encourage larger LGBT-friendly companies to work with smaller LGBT operations.

More cities could have 'gay villages'?

Work more closely with chambers of commerce, trade bodies, Stonewall.

 

Other issues that arose

In recruitment, middle-men take a cut, making it difficult to offer profitable contracts.

Govt. could encourage SMEs to tender, rather than expect us to operate as sub-contractors to big firms.

 

Thanks to everyone who sent us feedback...

4 April 2013


Your feedback

we should be competitive not seeking priorities

like small businesses should seek best value not cheapest cost contracts plus contracts broken down to enable small business to compete-----preferential or protectionism brings about long term lack of competition

Steve Radford, North West Liberals

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The government could set a minimum target of procurement to LGBT businesses as they are mostly too small to be considered through normal channels and are often left out.

Nick Heaton, Reform Creative

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- affirmative action - similar to that operating in the USA, where government suppliers must have diversity and equality policies that include LGBT
One way this could be dealt with is to tier the procurement. Currently everything in the Public Sector has to go to Tender with some exceptions and everything over a threshold has to go into the OJEU for open tendering. However there is nothing to stop the Government introducing some lower threshold below which the work/supply is limited to Companies that themselves fall below a certain level measured by turnover. Set that limit at £400k of turnover and you would transform the tendering process and don't insist on a minimum level of turnover in previous years. If there are questions about whether the bidder can actually deliver then ask intelligent questions not ask them to prove they already operate at that level - how else are they supposed to grow?

One could envisage a supplier of goods having to set out his supply chain and maybe show some ability to manage the cashflow implications - but actually helping that with some Credit Guarantees that aren't bound in red tape would open the flood gates to a wealth of cheaper supply to the Public Sector - thereby saving money and promoting growth simultaneously.

More small players would then get a slice of the cake and would rapidly grow to a scale where they could compete on the larger stage. (One could remove the T/O ceiling for associated works such as a series of smaller supplies that are part of a cohesive whole.) However there are plenty of opportunities worth up to £100k where SMEs are effectively shut out by the *big players*. I can think of an instance when NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde turned down an SME for a consultancy project worth £85k and gave the work instead to PwC "because they are a large organisation" - this despite the fact the SME could have done a better job with more resources applied for the same price as they weren't charging people out at £2,000 per day. (Unsurprisingly the PwC project also failed to deliver the desired change ...)

- priority involvement - like the 'Compete4' process inviting minority businesses to bid for Olympic contracts, successfully used by larger GBA members, and which could be extended and simplified for smaller enterprises
This really only applied to SMEs and not to Micro Business. The growth will come from Micro Business and therefore the emphasis should make it easier for these organisations to get a foot on the ladder. It is no use have Tendering Frameworks that cost money to get onto and offer no work in return. Instead the emphasis should be on simplifying the qualification criteria. For instance why should an organisation be required to certify that it has no outstanding issues with HMRC before a Local Authority will employ it? Policing the Tax structure is not the role of a Local Authority. Similarly stupid questions about Environmental Policies or Health and Safety are only applicable in some circumstances. Why should a small consulting company of 2-5 people have to prove all that stuff to go and work on client site where it is the client's policies that govern the work environment?

- regulation - does EU 'red tape' hamper or improve our operating environments ?
No comment on this - I suspect it doesn't really make much difference. The focus on micro business would go underneath most of the EU radar, especially since the OJEU threshold is really only applicable to larger SMEs and above.

- employment law - does it adequately support LGBT employees and/or owners ? Could it do more to help people living with HIV back to work ?
The whole issue of employment of people who are somehow disabled is a mess. The current discussion about providing longer statutory bereavement leave is a case in point. What should be possible is to provide some reasonable cases as examples and set these up as guidelines in an employer education drive. It would then be easier for those who are discriminated against to point to something that is seen as reasonable and ask for assistance. They could take their case to a rapid response unit who would hand out an indicative decision that the employer would then be able to refer to. Simply ignoring the decision would render the employer liable to a hefty fine for avoiding his responsibilities to apply equal opportunities. For instance, imagine a 10-worker organisation who decide to *lose* an employee diagnosed with HIV. In some circumstances that might be reasonable if the employment were handling blood products or other activities that might aid transmission. For others there would simply be no justification and there would be a strong financial disincentive to shed the employee.

- sub contracting - are larger businesses ( eg: Diversity Champion or Equality Index companies) encouraged to work with smaller suppliers (like GBA members) ?
They should be - and assuming that 10% of the population are Gay (a commonly quoted rough estimate) then at least 10% of their contracts should be sub-let to Gay or Gay-friendly operators. That might however open a floodgate for other minority groups, leading to a very complex mess. The better way forward would, in my view, be for GBA and like bodies to compete at the upper level and sub-let to their members. The current Agency model used by the IT contracting industry has no overt Gay Agency operating on its own. If one were to come on the scene (no pun intended) it could provide a very interesting and flexible workforce. For one thing most Gay professionals don't have family commitments and are potentially more flexible around working hours or locations.

- moral issues - how do we feel about potential EU reforms, eg: to sale of pornography ?
I am on record as saying that I think religious bodies (without exception) should not be allowed to demonise people that don't meet their codes of conduct, especially around same sex relationships. Therefore the EU similarly has no place in telling people what may or may not be sold to consenting adults. The issue of pornography engendering violence (mostly against females and/or minors) is a separate matter. Guidelines as to what society at large consider reasonable behaviour is set out in the Criminal Code. Those are the areas for focus, not the generality of pornography. As a gay man I am appalled at the attitudes of straight men towards women. One only has to sit in a bar and listen to some of their conversation. This is not a problem for the Gay community it is a problem of lack of education for the male population as a whole and will not be dealt with by some arbitrary banning of pornography on the web. Just as society has at last got to a point where being openly gay is no longer a massive problem, so it should focus on addressing the masculine attitudes towards women - be they based in ethnic culture or just sheer testosterone-driven arrogance. Women should be treated with respect as equals under a Western European code of conduct, irrespective of the ethnicity of the individuals concerned. Anything else should be frowned upon in the sternest terms. Take that as the benchmark and then look at the issues regarding treatment of children or LGBT or any other group in the same vein.

Rob Wherrett, Zymolysis Limited

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- affirmative action - similar to that operating in the USA, where government suppliers must have diversity and equality policies that include LGBT Yes to affirmative action but only in public sector contracts

- priority involvement - like the 'Compete4' process inviting minority businesses to bid for Olympic contracts, successfully used by larger GBA members, and which could be extended and simplified for smaller enterprises Yes, and active promotion of these priority involvement schemes

- regulation - does EU 'red tape' hamper or improve our operating environments ? No difference for LGBT businesses

- employment law - does it adequately support LGBT employees and/or owners ? Could it do more to help people living with HIV back to work ? It does adequately support LGBT employees / owners as the law stands nowadays

- goods & services - do anti-discrimination laws serve us well, ( eg: do laws affecting Christian B&Bs also affect exclusively-gay operations) ? Yes the Equality Act 2010 is exactly how discrimination laws should be on all its articles

- access to finance - are LGBT businesses discriminated against by banks and other institutions? Potentially if the business wants a loan, overdraft or business account and sells legal yet adult goods and services

- sub contracting - are larger businesses ( eg: Diversity Champion or Equality Index companies) encouraged to work with smaller suppliers (like GBA members) ? Not at the moment : a lot more proactive partnership working and outreach to smaller GBA members is required

- government policy / taxation - do policies adversely affect LGBT enterprises in unique ways ? Not in my opinion

- moral issues - how do we feel about potential EU reforms, eg: to sale of pornography ? A potential breach of freedom of expression and to be actively challenged- no one wants the return of 1980's Tory style censorship through the back door (pardon the pun)

Mr Gabriel Saclain, Silicon Networks Limited

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- affirmative action - similar to that operating in the USA, where government suppliers must have diversity and equality policies that include LGBT - Very good idea

- priority involvement - like the 'Compete4' process inviting minority businesses to bid for Olympic contracts, successfully used by larger GBA members, and which could be extended and simplified for smaller enterprises

- regulation - does EU 'red tape' hamper or improve our operating environments ? I am not aware of red tape from the EU

- employment law - does it adequately support LGBT employees and/or owners ? Could it do more to help people living with HIV back to work ? I am not sure about the laws in the UK - but in Germany these groups are protected. This does not mean they don't face discrimination from fellow colleagues.

- goods & services - do anti-discrimination laws serve us well, ( eg: do laws affecting Christian B&Bs also affect exclusively-gay operations) ? Exclusively gay institutions also practise a form of discrimination. When we fight against discrimination against LGBT we must accept that we cannot create our own world and discriminate against the hetero world.

- access to finance - are LGBT businesses discriminated against by banks and other institutions? I would say in many cases yes. Banks are generally very conservative and when the financial situation is tight - as it is at present - many LGBT projects and new businesses do not receive any aid from the banks.

- sub contracting - are larger businesses ( eg: Diversity Champion or Equality Index companies) encouraged to work with smaller suppliers (like GBA members) ?

- government policy / taxation - do policies adversely affect LGBT enterprises in unique ways ? Not sure of your tax laws in the UK. Government policies here often adversely affect LGBT enterprises as the laws are laid out for "mainstream" businesses.

- moral issues - how do we feel about potential EU reforms, eg: to sale of pornography ? For our company this is of course an important issue. We are indeed for the sale of pornography - but in a discreet way so as not to upset any religious or other groups. There must also be an age restriction - as there is with the sale of alcohol.

Briand Bedford - Bruno Gmuender

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Under public sector duty it is already a requirement to have an Equality policy, but seldom does policy deliver evidence of actual delivery or change in service and policy add to that procuring managers rarely consider this as a major issue as the business case is seldom tied back to sustainability. So there needs to be guidance in what this is, what we are looking for and what the benefit is or its a pointless tick box exercise. One of the many key pieces of work they could deliver is an economic based business case for social inclusion as opposed to unquantifiable empirical business cases that are used at the second.

The compete4 process is overwhelming for many SME's and is exclusionary as the level of data often exceeds the value of the end contract. So I would suggest that there be more training specifically developed for LGBT business in compete4 process and tendering. This training should also be made to be a pre-requisite of training provided by Business Link & Chamber et al which seldom provide specific focus on LGBT as an aspect of Equality, its very much an old boys network still.

The Government itself and indeed Local Authorities should be made to ensure they practice what they preach in procurement but also when looking at Economic Regeneration, it is appalling how fewer towns and cities have LGBT districts, or a pre-requisite to provide facilities for the LGBT community. What support is there for local LGBT venues who serve a minority audience? What requirement is there on breweries who maintain a stock of pubs to have a % of LGBT venues?


Steve Macey, Transport for London

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My position on this subject as an Executive Coach and Consultant is that we should win contracts because of the high value of our products or services and not because we are Gay.
I think that a way to make the Gay Business community be part of the economy is to make it normal and in a normal state of competition with other providers.
I am not feeling comfortable to see Gay Business people having a special status in any way.

I agree that discrimination still exist and that anyone should be protected against bullying and unfairness due to sexual orientation. Saying this, I still think that it would not be a positive to have a special "treatment" because we are a Gay company.
I wrote an article last year about discrimination at work published in NewsBlaze (avail)…

Denis Gorce-Bourge - GB Life Coaching

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1. Contract compliance for government contracts (both central and
local government and all government agencies) to ensure that companies
with a history of discriminatory behaviour be excluded from tendering
for contracts and preference be given to those with the best equal
opportunities policies;

2. Working more closely with trade unions and professional
associations to see where problems exist;

3. Working more closely with the co-operative movement, again to
promote positive employment policies;

4. Address the issue of heterosexist policies and approaches in the
public sector.

Zoe Bremer, Dip. Labour Studies

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I am constantly trying to get onto Govt contracts. Here are my concerns:

1. They are incredibly complicated and time consuming. A small business
owner doesn't have time to breath let alone wade through the red tape and
bureaucracy that goes with applying for Govt tenders.

2. The tender websites set up for us to use are even more complicated to
navigate through than the actual tenders. I wonder if they are designed to
actually put off small business users.

3. I am in Recruitment. Please will the Govt and local Councils stop using
'Matrix' and 'Commensura' which are procurement websites set up to
streamline temp recruitment. They are incredibly slow! Time consuming and
our margins are almost negative. By supplying a temp to these councils we are
almost losing money and so it is simply not cost effective for us to do. The
reason is that the 'procurement' middle man that owns Matrix cream off part
of the margin. It simply doesn't make sense. They tell us what rates to pay
the temps, sometimes too much than is required which doesn't make sense and
then we are TOLD what to charge. Sometime £ more than is necessary but the
procurement people want their slice!

Good luck but I think the Govt and Councils talk a lot of 'hot air' and I
wonder whether big business and/ or these Procurement firms are all patting
one another on the back or even worse there is a little bit of 'corruption'
going on 'behind the scenes' and someone somewhere is getting paid.

Anthony - Hire Ground Recruitment

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It would certainly be quite easy for Government to insist that in its own procurement, and encourage the private sector to ask potential bidders for information on their diversity programmes and show that they positively support diversity. Simon Hughes, the MP, is also trying to do this with local SME's to encourage firms to help local unemployed, so there are a number of agendas here, but this could link with the diversity issue . The research councils have indicated that they will only award research grants from 2016 (?) to universities who have a certain level (Athena Swan) for having positive policies re women in academic institutions, so it can be done.

The largest barrier to all of this is EU procurement and how it is applied. It has a built-in prejudice towards large firms and firms that are experienced in that area of work, so there is no opportunity for new firms to break into the market. In my world as an architect, this is a matter of concern - how do we foster new talent?. However, it is possible to apply the rules intelligently and imaginatively to focus on skills, not on specifics, as has been seen at the Olympics. In my case, I commissioned an architect by a pre-qualification questionnaire that included questions about showing how they would respond to the issues of the project, rather than just "how many of these have you done before", followed by an architectural competition. This takes more time as many of the responses were quite thoughtful and had to be read in detail, The pre-qualification questionnaires also need to be short and simple; otherwise SME's will not have time or resource to complete them. We had an advisor who was himself an SME to assist with this and to counter the natural tendency to make things more complicated and onerous.

It takes a bit of thought and imagination, but many organisations think that procurement is like buying tins of peas. Government must take the lead here is a less stringent approach to EU legislation and encouraging procurers to be more skilful. Publishing good case studies would help.

There are areas like large catering contracts where it would be easy to write things in to encourage this and avoid these being awarded to the large corporate contractors, or if they are, that they have to subcontract appropriately. This will potentially also result in something that the customers will enjoy more.

Ian Caldwell, King's College London


Original discussion

The government has asked the Gay Business Association to suggest ways they can improve the procurement environment for LGBT businesses and SMEs.

We would appreciate your feedback and suggestions

To contribute to a GBA response, please send your comments to:
hello@gba.org.uk

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Among the issues we have been thinking about are:

- affirmative action - similar to that operating in the USA, where government suppliers must have diversity and equality policies that include LGBT

- priority involvement - like the 'Compete4' process inviting minority businesses to bid for Olympic contracts, successfully used by larger GBA members, and which could be extended and simplified for smaller enterprises

- regulation - does EU 'red tape' hamper or improve our operating environments ?

- employment law - does it adequately support LGBT employees and/or owners ? Could it do more to help people living with HIV back to work ?

- goods & services - do anti-discrimination laws serve us well, ( eg: do laws affecting Christian B&Bs also affect exclusively-gay operations) ?

- access to finance - are LGBT businesses discriminated against by banks and other institutions?

- sub contracting - are larger businesses ( eg: Diversity Champion or Equality Index companies) encouraged to work with smaller suppliers (like GBA members) ?

- government policy / taxation - do policies adversely affect LGBT enterprises in unique ways ?

- moral issues - how do we feel about potential EU reforms, eg: to sale of pornography ?

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

You don't need to respond to every area listed above, but we would appreciate feedback on the issues specifically affecting your business.

hello@gba.org.uk

21 March 2013


Budget 2013:

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