Referring to the as-yet-unconfirmed decision over where the government’s new Print and Associated Services (PAS) Framework Agreement will be placed, Print Scotland director and vice-president Iain Robertson said Scotland’s print industry is “waiting to see if it is about to lose its biggest client at the stroke of a pen”.
The new contract, which is due to come into effect in March next year, covers the print needs of 53 public bodies.
Robertson said there has, as yet, been no feedback from a consultation by Scottish Procurement on whether this agreement should be structured as a single supplier or a multi-supplier portfolio, while the stated 17 August deadline for information on the contract has passed without comment.
At the end of July a similar Scottish government contract – the Publishing, Print, Design and Associated Services (PPDAS) agreement – which covers services to central government, blue light agencies, universities, the third sector and other public bodies, was awarded to Manchester-headquartered APS Group, which also has an office in Edinburgh.
Robertson said that by the time this agreement, which is advertised as being worth £70m, expires, there will be no printer left in Scotland big enough to challenge for it.
“The new PPDAS contract included a host of new agencies with bidders requiring a minimum annual turnover of £7.5m to take part. The message is clear: only the big boys are allowed to play in this game,” he said.
“Small local companies are perceived as just too much of a gamble, despite them having the locality, the ability and the flexibility to deliver what could be perceived as a more cost-effective and specialised service.”
He added that work the government has declared should go to Scottish firms is in the process of being offshored “by risk-averse procurement officials”, while many large Scottish businesses and financial institutions are also spending “well in excess of £100m” on print jobs they are placing outside Scotland.
Robertson, who also owns and heads up Dumbarton-based commercial printer JJR Print, said the Scottish industry, which is thought to employ between 4,000 and 6,000 people, is already being challenged by paper price rises, Brexit volatility and the squeeze on suppliers.
“It is not edifying – in fact, it is deeply unsettling – to see a once strong and dynamic Scottish industry in a state of apprehension, not to say fear, about its future,” he said.
“The signs are not good, and the upshot of what is happening in the sector at the moment could be that work for public bodies – the most important income stream in the business – will become, and remain, out of the reach of all but the biggest of Scottish printers.”
He added the industry is unanimously in favour of a multi-supplier approach to major contracts.
“I think the government needs to take a new approach – this is a problem that’s not just happened but is two decades in the making. Contracts have been getting larger and larger and small contracts are being bundled into big contracts.
“It’s a policy thing and I don’t think it’s government policy, I think it’s civil service and public service policy. I think we’re now at the point that it’s about convenience of those in the background rather than best value. The only thing the government could do is to stop these contracts getting bigger and bigger – they need to change direction on public procurement.”