IPSE’s guide to public sector contracts for freelancers

Last week, IPSE held a positive discussion with Martin Traynor OBE, the government's Small Business Crown Representative.


Mr. Traynor’s job is to make sure small businesses have better access to government contracts. IPSE were able to brief him on some of the challenges that freelancers have told us they face when trying to win work in the public sector, from red tape and insurance requirements in the application process to the difficulty of getting the appropriate security clearance when working with specific departments. In addition, the public sector can sometimes be a difficult client when it comes to late payment.

The government currently has a target for one-third of its total spending on public procurement to go to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). However, for IPSE and our members this often overlooks the smallest businesses out there – the self-employed. That’s why in our manifesto ahead of the 2019 Election, we called for the next government to ensure freelancers are considered as part of any procurement target spending on SMEs, and for public tender opportunities to be easier to access for smaller bidders.

Encouragingly, the government has taken several positive steps recently to make this a reality. Here are some of the key actions Mr. Traynor updated us on:

  • Increasing visibility of tenders and contracts: the best way to keep updated on new and upcoming contract opportunities is to register with Contracts Finder; and from January 2021 you can also use Find a Tender to view procurement notices
  • Helping strengthen procurements and reclaim money owed: if you have a concern to raise about a procurement process or receiving payment on a public contract, you can contact the Public Procurement Review Service to raise issues anonymously
  • Removing barriers for SMEs: the government is engaging with an SME Advisory Panel and organisations such as IPSE to identify and resolve problems that are blocking small business bids for contracts; government departments have also developed specific ‘SME Action Plans’ to drive more spending on SMEs
  • Paying suppliers on time: the government has set a target of paying 90% of its invoices within 5 days, and all of them within 30 days, and introduced tougher measures so that organisations bidding for government contracts also have to demonstrate good practice in paying their supply chain on time

In the coming months, the government will also be publishing two guides that will help freelancers further. First, guidance will be published on how small businesses can bid for Public Procurement opportunities as a group of suppliers in a Consortium. Second, the government is working on a ‘selling to government guide’ for small businesses, giving simple advice on how to find and bid for government contracts.

IPSE welcomes these developments and will continue to engage with the Small Business Crown Representative and ministers to ensure the self-employed can access opportunities to win work in the public sector.

For a comprehensive overview, you can head to the government’s newly launched SME hub which has information for small businesses interested in public procurement opportunities.

If you are a freelancer or contractor who has bid for, or would like to bid for, public sector contracts then you can also contact us on [email protected] to discuss any issues you have encountered, for us to raise with the Crown Representative and officials.

Meet the author

Alasdair Hutchison

Policy Development Manager