Print Scotland is warning that the industry north of the border faces a watershed moment as it fears that the next print procurement contract will go to a single supplier, despite the Scottish Parliament’s declared support for SME companies.
The Print and Associated Services Framework Agreement is due to come into effect in March next year. Consultations are underway about the form the framework will take. Iain Robertson, vice president of Print Scotland, says he fears that the contract will out of convenience be placed with a single company.
“I yield to no one in my admiration for the work that has been done in the procurement field in Scotland over recent years and also for the political will to share the public sector cake more equably among home based enterprises and SMEs.
“However, what has set the klaxons blaring across the print industry is the consultation question on whether a single-supplier or a multi-supplier portfolio structure would be the best solution.”
The inclusion of this question has raised fears that one conpany will pick up the print for 53 public bodies across Scotland, with an anticipated £32 million over the four-year duration of the framework. Under the current framework, 21 Colour, Allander Print, Barr Printers, Harlow Printing, J Thomson Colour Printing, Mackay & Inglis, McAllister Litho, Pandaprint and Streamline Corporate, are named as approved suppliers. Only Harlow Printing, in South Shields, is outside Scotland.
The publishing, print, design and associated services framework, in place until September this year, has APS (Scotland) as the single supplier. Supply of general stationery and office paper is also in the hands of a single company, Lyreco. Robertson continues: “In trying to gauge the thinking behind Scottish Procurement’s direction of travel, it is hard not to succumb to the suspicion that the single supplier route is more about convenience than price.
“While the high policy objectives of the Scottish Government are in the main well intentioned, the reality is that it is not the government which has the task of implementing the policy on the ground.
“That task falls to individual public body procurement officers and, without wishing to impugn anyone, there is a track record here of always going for the top of the range, most expensive option, usually from the biggest national or multinational companies. Small local companies are just too much of a risk.”
Robertson also fears that as the contract has to be open to non Scottish companies under the terms of EU regulation, a large English or overseas company might snatch the tender, a risk that is increased because few, if any Sottish printers, are large enough to tackle the contact as a single-source supplier.
Any decision in favour of a single supplier will fly in the face of declarations that Scottish SMEs should be able to win public contracts. According to Public Contracts Scotland, almost 80% of public contracts last year were awarded to SME businesses, 60% of them Scottish SME companies. The Procurement Scotland Act, which came into force two years ago, includes a commitment to ensure that tenders would be open to SMEs, something which has succeeded in increasing the role that smaller business have played.
According to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon “the value and quality of the services provided by small businesses isn’t simply something this government is praising in our rhetoric; it’s something we are recognising in our purchasing practices.”
It is this commitment that Print Scotland fears is now art risk, at least for Scotland’s print sector, shutting down signs of revival in the industry after years of decline.
Print Scotland is warning that Scottish SME printers might miss out on government contracts after spotting a clause in the tender document for public sector print contracts that come into force in march next year.