Question: I manage a SME in the engineering sector and regularly tender for public sector contracts. I am interested to know how will the new European Remedies Directive impact on public tendering procedures?
Catherine Thompson from Carson McDowell replies:
A: The current Remedies Directives set out the remedies available to aggrieved economic operators/ tenderers for breaches of the public procurement rules.
The main purpose of the new Remedies Directive, due to be implemented into national law by December 20 this year, is to improve the effectiveness of review procedures in the award of public contracts.
While the Directive also addresses the operation of a harmonised standstill period between contract award decision and contract award, this does not have a major impact on the current position in the UK.
For example, public contracting authorities will continue to have to wait for at least 10 days after making their decisions before the contract can actually be awarded.
Although we don't yet know the exact detail of the changes that will be made to the Public Contracts Regulations 2006 (the Regulations) in order to implement the new Remedies Directive, we do know that the most significant change will be in the form of the new remedy of 'ineffectiveness'.
Under the current law, it is accepted that once a contract has been entered into, even if it is in direct breach of procurement rules, the sole remedy for a dissatisfied economic operator is in damages.
However, the current rules have been held by the European Commission as failing to adequately comply with the underlying EC Treaty principles of transparency and non-discrimination and therefore, in certain cases, it is appropriate to declare a concluded contract ineffective.
It is important to note that the ineffectiveness remedy will only be available in certain circumstances, for example where standstill requirements have not been adhered to and if the Office of Government and Commerce has also indicated that the ineffectiveness remedy will not have retrospective effect for those contracts already up and running.
Once the new Directive takes effect there will be an even greater onus on contracting authorities to ensure they follow the letter of the law.
Question: I want to engage in social media - but should I commit the time and resources to it?
Niall McKeown from ION replies:
A: A cactus requires little love, occasional attention and not much work for the prickly companion to grow.
The fact that the cactus grows at all with such little resource and maintenance is a wonder and because we don't invest that much time in nurturing it, we don't expect the cactus to bring us joy and wonderment.
A puppy requires tons of attention. We can't give it a bowl of water once a week and hope that it survives.
It needs more than just sustenance. The little dog needs care, lots of your time and love.
In return, when the puppy grows, we are rewarded with face licking affection, loyalty and obedience.
Online marketing can be split into either cactus or puppy activities. SEO, PPC, online display ads and website design require little attention once established and will allow your business to grow slowly.
Blogging, email marketing, online PR, social media and web content are all puppy activities, requiring lots of attention.
Once you start a puppy activity, you need to commit time, emotion and passion to ensure the activities' survival.
It takes time for your puppy to grow but given time and the right nurturing, your puppy activities will repay you with more loyalty and love than any cactus could bring.
Question: Business networking seems to be a buzzword of the moment, colleagues and clients are inviting me to a lot of events but I'm not sure if it's worthwhile taking time out of the business to go. What's it all about and will it really benefit my new business?
Jack McComiskey, chairman and founder of Networking Organisation B4B replies:
A: At least one in five businesses in Northern Ireland are currently members of at least one business networking organisation.
In Northern Ireland these include the Federation of Small Business, Chamber of Commerce, Business Network International (BNI), Belfast Entrepreneurs Network (BEN), Women in Business and many more.
Some also have other functions in supporting businesses but the activity of networking is becoming more and more valued among business owners and professionals as a key marketing strategy. Face-to-face marketing is low cost and our members report highly effective.
One of our long-term members in the service industry reports that up to 70% of her turnover is as a direct result of business networking.
All of these organisations have varying formats and require different levels of input and promising varying returns - what all have in common is that none are meant to be arenas for direct selling.
The general idea behind networking is to support each other and in some case to gain useful contacts.
As well as identifying trusted suppliers and clients, some of our members have also found potential partners and associates among fellow networkers giving them the opportunity to bid for and win larger contracts than they would otherwise be able to handle.