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Local Suppliers

Volume 542: debated on Monday 12 March 2012

2. If he will encourage local authorities to increase their use of local suppliers in the provision of goods and services. (98953)

It is clear that there is significant scope for major savings in local authority procurement from the £62 billion spent each year. By making these savings, we can enhance front-line services, save taxpayers’ money and help to pay off the deficit. To encourage that, we are cutting red tape to open up procurement, especially to small and medium-sized firms. While it is up to a local area to decide from whom to procure, local authorities clearly have significant spending power, which should be used to help drive local growth.

Leeds city council has the charter for procuring community benefits, which encourages all current or potential council suppliers to commit to providing added benefit to the local community, particularly in disadvantaged parts of the city. What action will the Minister take to encourage local authorities to take up schemes such as that seen in Leeds to encourage buyers to use local businesses? That would certainly benefit the towns and villages in my area and businesses in West Lancashire.

The Government have supported the local productivity programme, which has been developed by the local government sector, led by the Local Government Association. We are looking at ways to improve access to tenders and procurement, especially for small and medium-sized firms, including promoting greater use of the online contract finder tool, which is a potential benefit for local British firms.

The supply of phonic books for Her Majesty’s Government is a 95% monopoly of the Oxford University Press and Pearson between them. Does the Minister agree that there would be positive merit in encouraging remaining companies such as Phonic Books Ltd in my constituency to be able to compete with those huge quasi-monopolies by physically seeking to assist them to do so?

I agree with my hon. Friend. To that end, the Government have been cutting unnecessary procurement red tape—for example, by removing the pre-qualification questionnaires for procurements below £100,000, as I know those requirements have considerably discouraged small businesses from tendering. I hope that councils will follow that lead and will continue to look to other sizes of contracts to improve procurement.

I was recently reading ConservativeHome, as one does. I noticed that the Secretary of State uses it to advise councils to make the best use of taxpayers’ money, so what assessment has his Department made of the amount by which council tax payers could benefit from increased local procurement, which could create local jobs and support local businesses?

I congratulate the hon. Lady on her reading—I was about to say bedtime reading, but I do not know what time she looked at ConservativeHome, although I am sure that the experience was encouraging and enjoyable.

As I have said, we are working on a raft of schemes. We have introduced a new code of recommended practice on data transparency, we are introducing new checks and balances on procurement cards, we are working with the local government sector to encourage initiatives such as the Welland procurement unit in the east midlands, and our Spend Pro analysis can identify areas of comparative spend and areas for efficiencies and savings.