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Government Procurement

Volume 542: debated on Wednesday 21 March 2012

6. How much and what proportion of Government procurement was made from small and medium-sized enterprises in the latest period for which figures are available. (100942)

9. What recent progress he has made on opening up public sector procurement to small and medium-sized enterprises. (100945)

I am grateful, Mr Speaker.

A year ago, the Prime Minister and I launched a package of radical measures to increase opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises to supply to Government. One year on, central Government’s direct spend with SMEs is on track to more than double to nearly 14% since we took office.

Those are very encouraging figures. In order to encourage small and medium-sized firms and show Government transparency, will the evidence behind the facts and figures be put in the public domain as soon as possible?

I am delighted to tell my right hon. Friend that we make this information much more public and transparent than it has ever been before. The Contracts Finder website contains much more information about tenders, contracts and successful bids than has ever been the case, but we have more distance to go, and we will do so.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the work that he has done to help SMEs to access Government contracts, but will he now consider writing protection for small sub-contractors into every major Government contract?

I am delighted to say that nine of the biggest suppliers to Government have already agreed that they will advertise on Contracts Finder their contracts for sub-contract as well, and that will increase accessibility. In addition, we are taking steps to ensure that payments get made quickly not only to prime contractors but to sub-contractors further down the supply chain. [Interruption.]

Order. There are far too many very noisy private conversations taking place in the Chamber. That is unfair to the questioner and deeply unfair to Ministers, who may well be greatly wounded by the experience.

11. The Government say that they are committed to ensuring that 25% of all Government contracts will be awarded to SMEs, but official figures and the experience of SMEs in my constituency show that the situation is getting worse. When are the Government going to get their act together on this? (100947)

I fear that the hon. Lady wrote her question before hearing my answer. We cannot make a commitment; it would be illegal to do that. We have an aspiration to move to 25%. The Government formed by the party of which the hon. Lady is a member did not even bother to measure how much of this was happening. In the past year, we have more than doubled the amount of spend that goes directly to SMEs, but there is further to go and we will go that distance.

Last week, Mark Taylor, the co-chair of the “new suppliers to Government” panel which is advising the Minister on SMEs, resigned, saying that Government contracts to SMEs were “drying up”, that things were “going backwards”, and that SMEs were

“finding it more difficult to do business with Government”,

and accusing the Government of “recounting” their figures. Given that the Minister has admitted that the Government are nowhere near their promised 25% target, will he explain why the proportion of procurement spend going to SMEs is falling at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Department of Health, the Department for Education, the Department for Transport, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for International Development, and the Treasury?

I say to the hon. Gentleman that if Mr Mark Taylor had come to any meetings of the SME panel over the past six months, he would have been more up to speed with the considerable progress that is being made. The previous Government, for whom the hon. Gentleman was an adviser, cared so little about this matter that they did not even measure what was being done. We have, I repeat, more than doubled the amount that is spent with SMEs over the past year. That amount will continue to grow.