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Competitive Tendering

Volume 175: debated on Wednesday 27 June 1990

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5.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the progress of the implementation of compulsory competitive tendering in local government.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment
(Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory)

Competitive tendering for construction and maintenance work has been compulsory since 1980. It was extended to a range of services, such as cleaning, refuse collection and vehicle maintenance by the Local Government Act 1988. It is being phased in and the first two rounds of competition are complete. The results have been encouraging, and it is clear that competition has done a great deal to improve efficiency and secure better value for money.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that there is no room in the philosophy of either socialism or the free market for waste and that the greatest benefit of competitive tendering is the elimination of waste? On behalf of all those who enjoy the services that are provided by local authorities throughout the country, may I urge him to continue the vigorous programme of competitive tendering that has been undertaken by the Government to ensure maximum value for money for taxpayers and all service users?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Compulsory competitive tendering is a potent weapon in the hands of local authorities to secure high-quality services at the most competitive price.

Is there any prospect of the Government adopting for their own responsibilities the safe practices that they now require local government to pursue? If he cares to read the Official Report of the debate on electricity privatisation he will see that if the rules that his Department is seeking to impose on local government were to apply to central Government some occupants of the Treasury would face surcharge or imprisonment.

We are always looking for new areas in which to introduce the benefits of open competition. I regret that the Labour party is apparently seeking to undermine that by withdrawing the requirement that competition should be compulsory. We are on the side of the charge payer and against the empire builders in some local authorities.

Can my hon. Friend report on the position in Humberside? Can he confirm that he has had to issue a section 13 notice because that county council, in flagrant disregard of the charge payers in the county, is failing to operate the competitive tendering requirements of our policy?

Yes, Sir. Humberside has been issued with a section 13 notice because of apparent anti-competitive behaviour during the tendering round. The council is now required formally to account for its actions. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has further sanction powers that he will not hesitate to implement if the evidence warrants it.