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INTERNATIONAL AND INTERDISCIPLINARY ∙ A Working Definition of ‘Barriers’ to Small Business in Public Procurement:

From Fair Treatment of Suppliers to Fair Share of the Market

Jamie Thomas


Keywords: SMEs, barriers, EU, UK, fair treatment, suppliers, fair market share

Measures to open up public procurement opportunities for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) are often justified by a perceived need to remove ‘barriers’ to participation in the world of public contracting. The word ‘barrier’ features extensively in the literature on this topic, and in the speeches and policy papers of politicians advocating for various ‘pro-SME’ measures. However, the language used is often inconsistent when it comes to expressing just what ‘barrier’ means in this context. Any business may experience a range of advantages or disadvantages as it tries to succeed in the market, but what makes a particular factor a ‘barrier’ that justifies government intervention? This paper explores the language of ‘barriers’ in the context of public procurement in the EU single market and the UK (as a jurisdiction that was, until very recently, a full participant in that market). Some relevant cases of the Europan Court of Justice (ECJ) are considered that shed light on the court’s view on the difference between an unfair obstacle that should be put right, and a natural disadvantage that does not justify intervention. Finally, in light of these observations, a working definition of an ‘SME procurement barrier’ is suggested.
Keywords: SMEs; barriers; EU; UK; fair treatment; suppliers; fair market share

Jamie Thomas, LLM, Postgraduate Researcher, University of Nottingham Law School, and Commercial Manager, National Savings & Investments. For correspondence: <>.


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