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Public Bodies

Volume 519: debated on Wednesday 24 November 2010

1. What steps his Department is taking to support public bodies in contracting out public services. I announced last Wednesday that the Government are identifying a range of additional commercial models for public bodies wishing to contract out services, such as joint ventures and public sector worker mutuals, alongside traditional outsourcing options. A major barrier to this is the extremely cumbersome procurement process left behind by the previous Government. An average process here typically takes almost twice as long as it does in Germany. This makes tendering less competitive and effectively excludes many smaller suppliers and social and voluntary enterprises. We are taking steps to streamline the process. (25849)

One of the problems with the delivery of public services in the past was the previous Government’s focus on delivery through either private contractors or existing local and central Government bodies. Many public sector workers were thus prevented from suggesting innovative ideas for the more efficient and cost-effective delivery of services. How will they now be encouraged to come forward with their ideas?

We have already encouraged them to come forward with ideas. As part of the spending challenge that we launched in the summer, we invited public sector workers to come up with ideas to save money while protecting front-line services, and 65,000 of them did so, indicating a huge amount of pent-up frustration. We are now encouraging as many of them as possible who are interested not only in having ideas but in putting them into effect to form worker co-operatives to spin out of the public sector while continuing to deliver services.

Given that there are strict procurement rules designed to demonstrate probity and value for money, and to avoid political interference, does the Minister think that it was wise for the Department for Education to hand out a £500,000 contract to the New Schools Network, an organisation led by a former associate of the Secretary of State? Was that contract fully compliant with all the relevant tendering regulations?

I certainly do not know the details of that procurement, but I am confident that it would have followed all the rules to the letter.