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Government Contracts

Volume 552: debated on Wednesday 7 November 2012

6. What steps he plans to take to enable small and medium-sized enterprises to secure more Government contracts. (126838)

8. What recent assessment his Department has made of the extent to which small businesses are engaged with the process of public procurement. (126840)

9. What progress he has made on making it easier for small and medium-sized enterprises to win public procurement contracts. (126841)

Since the general election we have introduced radical measures to make it easier for SMEs to win Government business. These will support growth and innovation. Gone are barriers like unnecessary pre-qualification questionnaires. New opportunities are published on our contracts finder website and SMEs can challenge obstruction through the mystery shopper service.

Over the past two years, I have been contacted by more than one construction company in my constituency that have encountered difficulties in securing small business contracts from both local and national Government. Will my hon. Friend continue to press Departments to remove the burdensome procedures and bureaucracy that make it harder for SMEs, such as those in my constituency, to compete for and win both local and national Government contracts?

We certainly will. We have appointed an SME champion in every central Government Department, all Departments have presented their plans for increasing their percentage spend with SMEs, something Labour never bothered to measure, and our mystery shopper service will continue to provide an outlet for challenging poor service and conditions.

Many small firms are still concerned that public procurement is based solely on price. How can we ensure that quality and sustainability are also taken into account?

The public procurement policy for central Government is to award contracts on the basis of value for money, which covers a combination of cost and quality, as my hon. Friend would expect. Our mystery shopper service provides an outlet for challenging poor selection requirements, such as those he might have experienced in his constituency. I say once again that value for money is something that the Government like.

The Minister claims that direct spend with SMEs has increased since the general election, but will she confirm that the recorded increase at the Ministry of Justice, the Department she claims has had the highest increase, is in fact due to officials starting to include small law firms providing legal aid services? Should those not be stripped from the figures?

I can confirm that the spend on procurement with SMEs has gone up. I say again that it was this Government who bothered to count that spend, unlike those now on the Opposition Benches, and I think that that is something we should be proud of.

The Government have repeatedly indicated that they want to reduce the bureaucracy and red tape that can prevent SMEs getting contracts. Will the Minister outline what further steps will be taken over the next two and a half years to complete that task?

I point to the fact that we are publishing for the first time a pipeline of projects and procurements that are available from the Government. There is £70 billion worth of opportunities available as of this year. That builds industry confidence to invest. I would also point to the way we are disaggregating ICT contracts, for example, which will allow them to be more flexible and cheaper for smaller firms to bid for. I note in passing that the Public Accounts Committee has said that the previous Government’s management of IT contracts was a recipe for a rip-off.

In June this year the Minister for the Cabinet Office launched the Government procurement Solutions Exchange website, saying that it was

“an easy, informal way for smaller firms to find out about emerging opportunities”.

It all sounded very promising. Is he aware that for the past two months SMEs, when logging on to the website, have been greeted by the words, “Nothing available at this time”? You could not make it up. Why is that? Does not the phrase “Nothing available at this time” neatly sum up the Government’s complete lack of support for SMEs?

I will tell you what is not available at this time, Mr Speaker: an Opposition policy to deal with any of that.