The Management Consultancies Association, the trade body for the consulting sector in the UK, has urged government to use upcoming framework reviews, the Procurement Act, SME action plans, as well as the Consultancy Playbook, to help provide better opportunities for SMEs to work in the public sector and help improve frontline public services and productivity. Although Government has many initiatives to help boost the number of SMEs procured by public sector buyers, there remains a huge opportunity for a more diverse range of suppliers to be contracted. MCA members are calling for barriers to be removed for SME participation, improved market understanding and support efforts by government to simplify public procurement processes.  

The MCA represents small, medium and large consultancy firms based across every region of the UK and over 70% of its members are SMEs. The government has stated that 2024 is the year of the SMEs and the government overall has an aspiration that every one in three pounds of public money should be spent with SMEs. Whilst overall government data on spend on SME shows spend is increasing, data presented to MCA members shows the direct spend of government on SMEs in consultancy still remains at around 11% via the Management Consultancy Framework (MCF3) though other routes to government work remain available.  

Tamzen Isacsson, Chief Executive of the MCA, said:  

 “It is vitally important that we are opening up more opportunities for SMEs to ensure public sector clients can access the full range of expertise in the consultancy sector and to ensure SMEs are awarded a greater share of direct work. We hope that practical guidance for SMEs on how to take advantage of the Procurement Act can provide a real boost and opportunity for SMEs seeking to secure more work in this area as well as effective implementation of the principles supporting SMEs in the government’s Consultancy Playbook. We welcome recent initiatives such as the Government’s year of the SME and the SME action plan by CCS and hope this can deliver tangible results for smaller sized organisations.” 

The MCA has also worked with Government on the Consultancy Playbook which launched in 2021 and has gone through various updates. The Playbook was created in recognition that the way government engages with consultants could be improved. This included the importance of specifying outcomes and deliverables at the start and planning adequately from the government’s side to ensure the successful transfer of skills and knowledge. It also points out that it is critical that Government can access the full range of expertise available in the market. While larger firms are often leaders in their respective fields with global reputations, it is also the case that smaller consultancies can deliver the specialist expertise, knowledge, and skills that public sector clients require in a timely and efficient manner and that this should be encouraged and maximised as far as possible. Further information on the benefits of working with SMEs can be read here:    

The consultancy sector in the UK benefits from a diverse and varied landscape of management consultancy firms, ranging from large firms with global brands to small consultancies often offering specialised expertise in niche areas. The MCA is currently engaged with the Crown Commercial Service on the development of Management Consultancy Framework 4 (MCF4), providing feedback on how best to design this vitally important framework so that it delivers exemplary value for money and provides access to the best knowledge and expertise available in the private sector, including an increase in prospects for smaller firms. 

As well as prospective changes to the Consultancy Playbook, the forthcoming Procurement Act and the MCF4 framework, the MCA has also suggested other ways in which to improve SMEs access to public procurement. These include: 

  • Ensuring that public sector buyers provide adequate time for suppliers to prepare and submit bids to tenders, which often benefits time- and resource-poor SMEs.
  • Limiting the practice of buyers requesting unlimited liability from suppliers, which disproportionately discourages smaller firms from bidding. 
  • Setting the required value contained in requirements for Certificates of Past Performance at a reasonable level for both larger and smaller firms. 
  • Promoting the principles on buying consultancy services from large and small firms contained within the Consultancy Playbook more widely within the public sector 

Tamzen Isacsson, Chief Executive of the MCA, added:  

 “As stated in the Consultancy Playbook, it is critical that public sector clients can access the full range of expertise in the market. We believe it is vitally important that MCF4, one of the major routes to market for consultancy firms working with public sector clients, reflects this and offers departments across the country the ability to access the right skills, expertise, and advice from the full range of suppliers, including from large, medium, and small firms.” 

Further information the MCA can be found at