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Government Procurement

Volume 516: debated on Wednesday 20 October 2010

2. What steps he has taken to increase the efficiency of his Department’s mechanisms for Government procurement. (18049)

8. What steps he has taken to increase the efficiency of his Department’s mechanisms for Government procurement. (18055)

Procurements of major projects by the British Government have typically taken 77 weeks. They have frequently involved the extensive use of external consultants. That process is costly and wasteful, excluding small businesses, social enterprises, and voluntary and charitable organisations. That results in procurements that are too often uncompetitive, delayed, expensive and ineffective. We are taking steps to streamline the process. In the meantime, we are renegotiating contracts with the bigger suppliers to the Government on a single-customer basis, thus leveraging the Government’s buying power. That will deliver some £800 million-worth of savings in this financial year alone.

Sir Philip Green’s report showed just how little time the previous Government afforded to the basic principles of cost-effective commissioning and procurement. Does the Minister feel that that attitude is embodied in the ill-considered note left by the ex-Chief Secretary to the Treasury as he left his old job?

If the last Government, including the right hon. Gentleman, had bothered to spend the time that we are spending getting into the unglamorous parts of Government spending to find out just how much money can be saved, he might not have felt it necessary to leave a note in quite the stark terms that he did, true though it was. The fact is that there is a huge amount of wasteful spending. Sir Philip Green has done a sterling service in picking up some stones and providing the evidence for that, and we will be acting on his recommendations to see how we can take costs out of the overheads of Government. That is the best way to protect front-line services and to protect the jobs of dedicated public servants, which the right hon. Gentleman claims to care about.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that small business has been locked out of the procurement process for far too long? Will he start to give small businesses, particularly those in Yorkshire, a fairer crack of the whip?

A big benefit arising from the changes that we are proposing to make to the way in which services are procured is that they will open the door to smaller businesses. Over-prescriptive procurements make it very expensive for small businesses to take the risk of committing to tendering, and they tend to be excluded on a self-selecting basis. We want to change that. It is our aspiration that 25% of contracts should be let with small and medium-sized enterprises. That is the direction in which we hope to go, and I am sure that my hon. Friend’s constituents in Yorkshire will take full advantage of it.

Will the Minister be able to publish information in future to show that his aspiration to help small business is not just an aspiration but a reality?

One of the stark conclusions of Sir Philip Green’s review was that the quality of Government data is lamentably poor. It is not easy to know exactly what the position is. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) referred to the lack of centrally held data about contracts with the voluntary and charitable sector; that merely begins to illustrate the problem.

The Minister talks about small and medium-sized enterprises gaining more from Government contracts, but can he indicate what he is doing to ensure that there is a good spread of that throughout all regions of the United Kingdom?

All regions and nations across the United Kingdom should be able to benefit from that aspiration. We are going to expose much more widely the tender documents that are available so that small businesses will find it much easier to take part in these sometimes quite intimidating processes that have excluded many of them in the past. [Interruption.]

Order. I understand that the House is eagerly anticipating later business, but when there is a constant hubbub it is very discourteous and most unfair both on the person wanting to ask the question and on the Minister deputed to answer it.