Leidos parliamentary reception demonstrates the “absolutely vital” role of SMEs in UK Defence
The invasion of Ukraine has once again revitalised the discourse around UK Defence. It was therefore fitting that Leidos UK brought together parliamentarians with SMEs from across the country in the Churchill Room last week for a reception showcasing their critical impact within the sector.
The reception was hosted by Chair of the Armed Forces APPG, James Gray MP, whose North Wiltshire constituency is home to a large military presence. Speaking during his opening remarks he emphasised “how important the SME contribution is to the defence of the realm.”
In doing so, he cited not only the fact that over half of the Ministry of Defence’s logistics contracts are fulfilled by SMEs, but also the ceremonial function that they play, “showcased so clearly” at the time of her late Majesty the Queen’s passing, from the operations around the lying-in-state to the production of white gloves.
Chief Executive at Leidos UK and Europe, Simon Fovargue, spoke of the company’s partnership with the Ministry of Defence to deliver digital transformation for the £6.5 billion Logistic Commodities and Services Transformation (LCST) programme. Leidos is a global leader in digital modernisation and transformation across Government as well as in the commercial sector, delivering purpose-built solutions and managed services, comprehensive, and integrated cybersecurity.
He referenced new efforts that are being undertaken to increase the presence of the SME community in the supply chain through technology, including the implementation of a “new e-procurement system, which makes it easy for smaller businesses to qualify and bid for contracts”, alongside the establishment of an SME champion “who works with suppliers and stakeholders to continue to build upon and further that ecosystem.”
SMEs make up nearly 52% of the Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) supply chain. That is a huge percentage. To put this into perspective, the British Chambers of Commerce recently published a report which found that just 21% of central government and wider public sector procurement spending went directly to SMEs in 2021.
Most notably of all, Fovargue gave thanks to each of the specialist suppliers in the room who are keeping the UK’s defence efforts moving on a daily basis.
One of those businesses present was SportsMed Products Limited, which provides AlterG anti-gravity treadmills for the Ministry of Defence.
When asked why the SME market is so important for the sector, Managing Director, Trevor Donald, argued that it is “because innovation comes out of small companies.” He added that SMEs offer a key advantage by being “flexible” and “able to change direction quickly for the needs of the military.”
In attendance at the reception was Sir Christopher Chope MP, who was pleased to note that an AlterG anti-gravity treadmill had been installed within the local NHS Trust that serves his constituents. Echoing the points made by Trevor, he praised the ability of this technology to reduce “the need for major hip and knee operations” and the value for money innovation can deliver for the public purse.
One supplier which showcased the key ceremonial expertise of SMEs in UK Defence was Kashket & Partners, which is involved in the manufacturing of military uniforms and regalia. Commenting on this important aspect of the sector’s supply chain, Sales Manager for Firmin & Sons, Tony Kelly, said that there are “tens of thousands of craftsmen and women” in the United Kingdom that possess “how to skills” without which the “armed forces cannot function”. He went on to say:
“Whether it is making a button or a battleship, it involves people and it involves some very highly skilled people, some in very old traditional industries [and] some in very modern, cutting-edge industries, but at the end of the day it is still people with skill that are allowing our young men and women to be the best of the best in the world”.
He argued that this could be boosted even further with a renewed focus on UK manufacturing:
“If our Government is now encouraging manufacturing…to go forward…that only happens if you support made in Britain. SMEs need support to help us to train the next generations of engineers who are going to help us lead our export way into the future.”
Concurring with the sentiment on manufacturing was Baroness Verma, who was at the reception “to talk up our SMEs”, in particular their ability to provide “quality” goods and services. Expanding on this, she said:
“For far too long we have taken all our manufacturing out of the country for cost purposes and forgotten the quality side of it. We were a country that was known for our quality and we need to bring that back. Events like this highlight what we can really do best. Government [and] parliamentarians have really got a duty to bring the best of the best back to the UK, so we can have it made here.”
Right across the board it was clear from the reception that the suppliers in the Churchill Room captured the very essence of why we need SMEs to bolster UK Defence. Having visited the stalls, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for defence, Baroness Smith of Newnham, summed this up by saying that their contribution to UK Defence is “absolutely vital” and that many major projects within the sector would not happen without them.
Leidos agrees and is proud to partner with SMEs from all corners of the UK as part of the Ministry of Defence’s LCST programme. To find out more about this, please click here.
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