Skip to main content

Government Procurement (SMEs)

Volume 524: debated on Wednesday 2 March 2011

7. What steps he is taking to make Government procurement simpler for small and medium-sized enterprises. (42479)

9. What steps he is taking to make Government procurement simpler for small and medium-sized enterprises. (42480)

12. What steps he is taking to make Government procurement simpler for small and medium-sized enterprises. (42483)

Order. I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman, but I think he seeks to group the question with a number of others: Nos. 9, 11 and 12.

I do indeed, Mr Speaker; I am very grateful to you.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to ask this question because we attach a huge amount of importance to trying to open up contracts to small and medium-sized enterprises. We have launched the Contracts Finder website, which is of enormous advantage to them, and we are getting rid of vastly burdensome pre-qualification materials. Opposition Members may be interested to know that a document such as the one I am holding is what small and medium-sized enterprises had to fill out over and over again in pre-qualification. We are now reducing that and eliminating it in many cases.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. A business in my constituency offers a proven low-cost solution to helping individuals back to work, but it is finding it impossible to get access to Government. Can my right hon. Friend advise Gary Roberts of Cavendish Films how he can open a dialogue and ensure that these potential huge savings are given a fair hearing?

I would be delighted to welcome my hon. Friend and his constituents from Cavendish Films to discuss that very issue. The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), has constructed the Work programme in a way that enables the main contractors to deal with the vast range of subcontractors on a payment-by-results basis, and I am sure there is plenty of opportunity for my hon. Friend’s constituents to be introduced to the participants in that programme.

My constituency of Elmet and Rothwell has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, which is due mainly to a very successful SME base. Is the drive to procure from SMEs intended as a way of subsidising them, or is it the most efficient way for the Government to procure?

My hon. Friend raises another extremely important question. It is emphatically not the Government’s intention to subsidise small and medium-sized enterprises through the contracting process, but rather to enable Government to be more efficient by promoting the kind of innovation that SMEs so frequently bring to the work they do. Our feeling is that if we get locked into contracts merely with very large suppliers, we often lose that innovation, and we are determined to avoid that result.

SMEs are vital to the black country economy. What is the Minister doing to ensure that small and medium-sized companies in places such as the black country can compete for Government contracts on a level playing field?

Again, that is an enormously important question. One of the purposes behind our move to spread contracting to SMEs is precisely to ensure that we do not get such an unbalanced economy. We want to reach out to firms that have the best propositions—often, small and medium-sized firms—in parts of the country where there are not major contractors who do much business with Government. We believe that that is a good way of helping to build the economies, and enterprise and innovation, in those areas of our country.

Government procurement officers have been very risk-averse in the past and associate large companies with security. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a change in culture is required, as well as these excellent new policies?

In a word, yes. We are determined to achieve a change in culture, and the dictum that nobody ever got sacked for hiring IBM is one that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office is putting to the test. We are determined to go for innovation and excellence, and we will do that on a wide scale. Looking at the figures for contracting, I see that we have already achieved an enormously wide spread in the past few months.

Order. There are really far too many noisy private conversations taking place in the Chamber. I want to hear the questions and, indeed, the good doctor’s answers.

What proportion of Government contracts were won by small and medium-sized enterprises in Yorkshire, and what are the Government doing to ensure that small companies in the north of England get a proportionate share of Government contracts?

I will write to the hon. Gentleman with the figures for Yorkshire. I can tell him that we have set a presumption that all Government Departments will be moving towards 25% of contracts being in the hands of small and medium-sized enterprises, giving a vast range of opportunity not just in one part of the country but all parts of the country. Indeed, we intend to ensure that people throughout the country have ample opportunity to get into this market, which is why we are making it so much easier to participate.