I can’t remember a time when I felt more of a sense of community. Where I live in Uppingham there are only around 5,000 people so it’s always been friendly, but in the past few weeks we’ve really rallied around our local businesses.
There are signs up all over town from the council encouraging us to shop local, so as much as possible residents are supporting the Friday market, and making good use of the shops and businesses as they re-open.
While Uppingham’s only a small market town, it’s home to many small businesses, some of which you can see when you’re out and about and some that you can’t. It’s only right that the retailers we’ve come to depend on in our time of need receive targeted support, and everyone in the community will benefit from a rejuvenated high street.
CX Consultants is a small business, yet despite having an office in town, we conduct most of our work online. That means the support we need from the local council is a little different. I’m hopeful that recent changes to the way the government procures its suppliers will help support more small local businesses like mine across the country.
There’s no doubting that coronavirus has ushered in a radical transformation of the UK’s public sector. Back in March the government issued Procurement Policy Note (PPN) 01/20 which set out information and guidance for public bodies responding to the crisis, highlighting how they could procure goods, services and works with extreme urgency, without competing or advertising the requirement.
Two days later it released guidance for public bodies on payment of their suppliers to ensure service continuity during and after the coronavirus outbreak in PPN 02/20. It said that the most at risk suppliers were to be paid until the end of June in order to maintain cash flow in the supply chain and protect jobs, even if service delivery was disrupted or temporarily suspended. Last month’s PPN 04/20 update announced that local authorities must work with at risk suppliers to plan an eventual exit from any relief by the end of October, transitioning to a sustainable operating model which could include terminating the contract if it’s no longer viable.
As a result of these PPNs the rules of engagement have changed significantly. Instead of large corporations winning government contracts by default, increasingly there are opportunities for small businesses to benefit. If local authorities can begin engaging small businesses and encouraging them to become approved suppliers, there’s scope for local authorities to begin awarding contracts to smaller local businesses on a large scale.
The Opportunity For Digital Transformation Within Local Government Is Huge
When you think of digital innovation, you’re unlikely to think of local government, but in the last few months the changes have been radical. While the government’s legacy systems repeatedly came under strain whenever new services such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and NHS Test and Trace were made available to the public, local authorities have been quietly working in the background, keeping crucial services up and running in times of increased demand.
Already facing significant challenges before the pandemic, local authorities were able to quickly reorganise their workforces to ensure staff could work from home to continue supporting the most vulnerable members of our communities. From enabling the remote delivery of health and care services, to introducing digital service points and widespread sharing of data, local authorities have relied heavily on cloud-based technology throughout the crisis.
After successfully redesigning some of their key services, local authorities will now face growing expectations to offer a digital experience across the board. Increasingly consumers will want to self-serve, avoiding contact wherever possible, and AI and chatbots will become key to improving the customer experience and driving efficiencies.
In order to overcome their communication and administrative challenges in the long-term, local authorities will need to build stronger partnerships with local tech businesses to deliver their services in a different way. Whether it’s helping to increase deployment of cloud software in contact centres to supporting efforts to improve infrastructures and addressing cyber security gaps, tech-based solutions are in high demand.
I’d encourage all small business owners who want in on the action to contact their local council or public sector organisation. To be in with a chance of selling cloud hosting, such as content delivery networks or load balancing services; cloud software, such as customer service management software; or cloud support, such as migration services or ongoing support on the government’s Digital Marketplace, you’ll need to apply to the G-Cloud framework by 5pm on Monday 20 July 2020.