Government tender support for small business...

Government tender support for small business - opportunities in defence

Australia's 1.1 million small businesses provide slightly more than half of all employment in Australia, and a large chunk of the gross domestic product and taxation revenues. So it is not surprising that tender advertisements from Federal and State governments show considerable solicitude for the welfare of small business.

Where they are seeking one large, head contractor, they usually specify best efforts to sub-contract to as many small business suppliers as possible. To get early warning on possible opportunities, interested small businesses might well check out the big tenders, rather than wait for the inquiries to trickle down to their level later on.

Take, for example, a tender on June 23rd, 2003 for the Garrison Support Services and Comprehensive Maintenance Contract for the Australian Department of Defence, for defence bases around the continent. This is a rollover of a string of contracts which have been held by some large and competitive groups. In the contest to secure or retain these valuable openings, success in dealing with small business sub-contractors was one important credential they needed to demonstrate.

This is very evident from a string of tenders several of these organisations put out, as recorded in the TenderSearch service. A new entrant was the US-based global defence outsourcing firm, DynCorp. On July 18th, 2003 DynCorp issued an invitation to Australian small business to register as possible sub-contractors, should it gain all or part of the Defence garrison and maintenance contracts. There were openings in hospitality and catering, accommodation management, access control, laundry and dry cleaning, cleaning services and waste management, grounds maintenance, pest and vermin control, sport and recreation and clothing store services.

On the technical side, DynCorp was looking for management of petroleum, oils and lubricants, transport, workshop and air support services, powerhouse, fire fighting and rescue, range and training area management, expert facilities advice and surge support (that is, ability to manage a big increase in demand for specific Defence missions).

The Spotless conglomerate, which has grown from cleaning and catering into a large outsourcing contractor, is a big player in the public sector services area. For facilities maintenance on Defence establishments in Canberra/ACT it invited standing offers from experienced and suitably qualified contractors offering electrical, painting, carpentry, locksmith, carpeting, glazing, aluminium supply, sign writing and signage, plumbing, gas fitting and drainage, minor civil works and repairs, and general building facilities maintenance. If you're a Canberra business in the building trades and supplies sector, that's a large amount of potential business.

Serco Dodexho Defence Services and GHD Engineering were particularly interested in defence bases and establishments throughout South Queensland. Major sites of interest included Rockhampton, Brisbane, Ipswich, Canungra and the Darling Downs. "SSDS is committed to the employment of local contractors in providing facilities maintenance solutions to the Australian Defence Force," their advertisement stated.

Their requirements had a strong emphasis on building mechanical services as well as tradesmen. They included airfield lighting, refrigeration lift maintenance, motorised doors, civil works, security systems, high voltage plant, generator maintenance, air compressors, sewer and water treatment plant operators, specialised hospital and medical equipment maintenance, electricians and high voltage electrical services, fire services and suppression system maintenance.

To go with those were swimming pool technicians, plasterers, painters, joiners, carpenters and cabinetmakers, glaziers, tilers, locksmiths, signwriters, fencers and plumbers. Remember that similar invitations to tender were being generated for other defence regions around Australia, and that's a large slice of steady, reliable work for a small business selected as a supplier.

In the June, 2003 tender which set the ball rolling, the Defence Corporate Services & Infrastructure Group told the potential head contractors: "In accordance with Commonwealth policy, companies will be expected to achieve, as a minimum, 10 per cent of overall contract value within each contract being delivered by Small and Medium Enterprises. Defence will seek greater involvement by local industry in the delivery of Comprehensive Maintenance and Garrison Support Services."

In another illustration of collective effort, over 700 companies in the furniture industry will be involved in an Australian Furnishing Industry Technology Network. The Federal Government on September 3rd, 2003 committed $3.8 million to the Furnishing Industry Association of Australia (FIAA) to develop the network. With furniture imports up to 40 per cent of total sales, the project aims to develop a technology roadmap and a national diffusion network to spread furniture industry takeup of world class technologies and processes.

All eight state and territory governments offer regular grants, information programs, business training, internet services and other assistance, frequently publicised through tender advertisements. One way or another, whether it's tracking big contracts or keeping an eye out for government grants, for small business it pays to monitor the ongoing flow of tender activity.

Stay fully informed of new business opportunities in your industry and region with a TenderSearch Notification service.

Christopher Jay is a writer for the Australian Financial Review. He is a regular contributor to its Tenderwatch column in the Friday Government & Business Section.

Images @copy; Commonwealth of Australia Department of Defence

As published in TenderSearch Magazine - Spring/Summer 03 Issue