A figure claiming SMEs benefit from almost a quarter of the value of central government contracts has been met with scepticism by business lobby groups.
New figures from the Department of Trade and Industry suggest that out of the #4.7 billion spent on such contracts, over #1 billion was awarded to small business.
Both the Forum for Private Business and the Federation of Small Business were surprised at the claim, suggesting it was unlikely to represent the experience of most firms.
Simon Briault, spokesman for the FSB, said: "The FSB welcomes any improvement in central government procurement.
"However, the experience of our members is that getting access to Government contracts is still notoriously difficult."
A spokesman from the FPB said it did not tally with their research relating to local government and other public sector work.
"Out of the #117 billion spent on public sector contracts, only three per cent went to smaller firms," a spokesman said.
However, the DTI disputed this figure.
"This suggests that local authorities are spending less on services from small businesses than central government," a DTI spokesman said.
"Although we are in the process of collecting figures for local authorities, we suspect this is not the case.
"In our experience, local authorities give more contracts small firms."
The tender process for public-sector contracts has long been criticised as a minefield for small business.
SMEs are often prevented from applying for large contracts because of turnover clauses in bidding documents.
However, many smaller contracts are often difficult to find. The Office of Government Commerce hopes to address this early next year with the launch of an online portal advertising all small contracts.
The site, which was prompted by the success of a pilot study in the West Midlands, is due to launch in early 2006. Martyn Day, spokesman for the OGC, said measures were being taken to improve small business access to public sector contracts, but that SMEs should not expect preferential treatment.
"I understand that small businesses can get frustrated when applying for public sector contracts, but we can not give SMEs an inside track.
"Business rules have to apply and it is dog eat dog.
"The big boys often win because they can give added value and services that small business can not.
"Of course we are committed to increasing the opportunities for small business.
"However, we do not want to be in a situation where a small business takes on contracts they can't deliver - this would only ended up discouraging the public sector from working with them."