To mark Small Business Saturday, the MOD has been celebrating its work with small businesses. But how easy is it for SMEs to get MOD contracts?

SMES once “an afterthought” for MODMinistry of Defence

Back in 2015, the Federation for Small Businesses (FSB) called for an overhaul of the way the MoD engaged with small companies in its report, The Global Defence and Security Industry: Why Small Businesses Matter.

John Walker, who was at the time FSB’s national chairman, said that there was “a justified feeling among small firms that the MoD either does not recognise or understand the small business community – despite rhetoric to the contrary,” adding that he felt small businesses were “an afterthought” to the MOD and at a “significant disadvantage” compared to larger competitors when it came to working with the MOD.

However, the MOD announced they had a new programme “to put small businesses at the heart of Defence procurement.” In their 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, they made a commitment to spend 25% of procurement money with SME suppliers by 2020 and dramatically simplified and condensed their contracts for SMEs.

So have things improved? It seems so.

Small businesses are helping to keep Britain safe

The Rt Hon Gavin Williamson, Defence Secretary, has been celebrating the part small businesses play in fulfilling MOD contracts.

A statement from the MOD said over 100 small businesses had been involved in the construction of the new F-35 fighter jets, and highlighted the role of small firms Technical Fibre Products, Exception PCB, A&G Precision and Manchester-based EDM Ltd.

Technical Fibre Products produce the advanced materials that have been core to the aircraft design and paly a large role in pilot protection and Exception PCB, which employs 107 people, manufactured the circuit boards that control many of the F-35’s core capabilities, including its engines, lighting, fuel and navigation systems.

The 90 staff of A&G Precision designed machine components for the fuselage, horizontal and vertical tails of the F-35, and while EDM Ltd are not involved in the F-35’s construction, it provides world-leading training simulators to help the Royal Air Force train its personnel to load weapons and fit ejection seats to its latest fighter.

In September, the new F-35s had their first historic landing on the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth, and small businesses have played a role in the construction of the 65,000-tonne Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers too. Caterform, a family-owned Tyneside company with fewer than 12 employees, has been fitting kitchen equipment on the galleys of Royal Navy ships for over 30 years and worked on the galleys and servery areas of the carriers that will feed a crew of 700.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“Small businesses across the UK are a vital cog in the Defence supply chain… they bring innovation, unique expertise and a competitive edge to Defence industry.

“And with start-ups run by former service personnel and manufacturers making the most of our veterans’ unique knowledge, our nation’s economy as a whole is feeling the benefit of our Armed Forces’ expertise and training.”

Last year the Ministry of Defence invested over £2.5 billion into small and medium businesses as part of its commitment to make it easier for them to win contracts. In addition, hundreds of small businesses have signed the Armed Forces Covenant, pledging their support for the military community.

Interested in working with the MOD? The MOD has launched a range of initiatives to make it easier for small businesses to learn about and bid for defence contracts, including new, short-form contracts for less-complex procurements. Check out:

  • The new Defence Supplier portal which brings together useful information and opportunities for suppliers in one place
  • @defenceproc, a dedicated Twitter feed to highlight new opportunities for SMEs.