The EU has recently been considering the problems faced by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in competing for public contracts. SMEs win only 31-38 per cent of public contracts by value which is substantially less than their overall share in the economy (52 per cent of combined turnover). Ironically therefore measures designed to increase competition and to free the market for all potential bidders (including SMEs) is actually having the opposite effect.

The Committee for the Internal Market and Consumer Protection has recently considered this point and unanimously approved measures to remove the administrative barriers for SMEs to allow them to participate more effectively in competitive tenders. Those measures include a proposal for an EU-wide "electronic procurement passport" which would prove that the holder complies with EU rules on public procurement without the need to go through a substantial paper exercise for each new bid. MEPs also backed a proposal to divide public contracts into lots to give SMEs a better chance of bidding.

The mood in Europe is clearly to lighten the load for SMEs, not-for-profit and social economy operators when it comes to the current requirements for bidding for public contracts. The Commission has been seeking views since January 2011 on this and is currently preparing a series of legislative proposals which will be tabled later this autumn.