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Government Contracts

Volume 519: debated on Wednesday 24 November 2010

3. What steps he is taking to increase the participation of voluntary and charitable bodies in bidding processes for Government contracts. (25851)

The Office for Civil Society will shortly publish a consultation on what changes need to be made to commissioning to make it easier for voluntary and community sector organisations to compete for public contracts. The results will feed into a wider public services reform White Paper, which is due to published early in the new year.

I am grateful to the Minister. On 13 November, I chaired a summit meeting of the chief executives of 14 significant third sector bodies in Suffolk to discuss the big society and Suffolk county council’s radical new strategic direction programme to contract out local public services. The third sector bodies were extremely keen to bid for these contracts, but they were concerned that unscrupulous, large corporate prime contractors and a very crude payment-by-results regime could fatally damage their cash flow—

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman wants to be reassured that that will not be the case. We are grateful to him for so indicating—[Interruption.] Order. That is the end of it.

As my hon. Friend knows, there will be cases where large-scale contracts are more efficient, but we want to make sure that voluntary and community sector organisations do not feel excluded from them and are treated fairly by the prime contractors within any consortiums. The White Paper will address that issue. In addition, the private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White), which the Government support, will place a firmer requirement on commissioners to consider social value in their buying decisions. That will help. I should be delighted to meet representatives of the local voluntary and community sector organisations in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Mr Ruffley) and I extend the same offer to all hon. Members.

I am sure that the Minister will agree that bidding processes and the awarding of Government contracts must be transparent and fair—and seen to be so. Does he therefore think it good practice that his Department awarded a huge £4.1 million contract to a charity founded by his policy adviser, Lord Wei? Will the noble Lord consider his position as a result of this matter?

I am not entirely sure to which contract the hon. Lady refers, but if she means the recently announced awarding of contracts to 12 providers of the national citizen service, that process was run in an impeccably transparent way. We are absolutely delighted with the outcome and with the prospects for that programme.

On probity and transparency, what puts off most charitable organisations is the time, the expense and the long drawn-out nature of the process. Is the Minister going to do something about that?

Absolutely. That is a hugely important point. Everything I have learned over the past two years suggests that for many organisations the whole process of applying for and reporting public money is a bureaucratic nightmare—often totally disproportionate to the sums involved. Changing that is fundamental to the reform of commissioning and procurement that we are undertaking.