More than 95 per cent of the 1,000 or so companies which make up the UK defence industry are SMEs.

Getting them involved in defence programmes is the task of aerospace and defence industry body ADS Group. Caroline Donaghy, director of defence for ADS explained how the organisation helps its members. “We provide a host of services in support of SMEs, but I think there’s actually been quite a lot of activity from the MOD to improve transparency and communication with the establishment of an SME Action Plan, but we are eagerly awaiting for an update of that, which details how SMEs are faring which then means we can help problem solve.”

“There’s also been an SME Working Group stood up under the Defence Suppliers Forum. So, ADS is very much there to look after SME members and put that agenda on the table with the Minister of Defence.”

Constant dialogue needed with industry primes

Communication and dialogue are also improving further up the supply chain with the UK’s prime defence contractors. Donaghy explained: “Within the primes as well, we should detail that they do have SME champions who are actually there to help support the SMEs get a part of the business and form a part of the supply chain, so I do think that is positive. So, again, it is about transparency, whether it’s from primes, from the MOD, about what the capability needs are, what the requirements are. And just that dialogue – it needs to be constant.”

Collaboration and co-operation were the buzzwords at this year’s DSEI and Donaghy said the partnership approach could work for the UK’s defence SMEs. “We’re seeing more and more of that regardless of what domain you’re in,” she said. “And I think that constitutes a good opportunity for SMEs to form part of a bigger programme and get together and say, ‘I can do this, can you do that?’, and just club together and put together a real offer, so I do think that’s an opportunity.”

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