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Procurement Contracts

Volume 560: debated on Wednesday 20 March 2013

4. What recent steps he has taken to address barriers to small and medium-sized enterprises participating in Government procurement. (148852)

5. How he plans to ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises secure a larger proportion of Government contracts. (148853)

It is this Government’s policy to dismantle the barriers facing small companies to ensure that they can compete for contracts on a level playing field and that they can better grow. Direct spend with small and medium-sized companies across Government has steadily increased since 2010 as a result of the steps we have taken, and we have required all Departments to put in place plans to ensure that their spend with SMEs continues to increase.

Does the Minister think that it is acceptable for large multinational companies to receive millions of pounds in Government grants while avoiding paying a single penny in corporation tax? If not, what changes will she make to procurement legislation to ensure that we stop this bad practice and instead increase opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises?

I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that much of what he seeks is covered in debates later today. We have recently announced measures to ensure that the companies we deal with as a Government pay their fair share of tax, and rightly so.

I would like more businesses in Brighton to have contracts with the Government. Will the Minister make data available on a constituency level regarding which businesses do business with the Government?

Since the general election Government have become much more transparent about the business they do, and all contracts over £10,000 are now published online at Contracts Finder. My hon. Friend will also find pipelines covering infrastructure and Government construction that will help him with a lot of data. Although we cannot yet release these data specifically at constituency level, I am very keen to make them available, and I look forward to working with him to make that a reality.

The Minister has done a lot of excellent work on fair payment, but how do we make it easier for our smallest businesses, and our smallest service businesses, to win Government contracts?

Central Government policy is to pay undisputed invoices within five days and to pass 30-day payment terms down the supply chain as a condition of contract. That has earned this Government the title of fair payment champion, which is very important. We encourage small and medium-sized enterprises to use the mystery shopper service to “shop” poor practice where they find it. My hon. Friend will also know that we have streamlined the procurement process, removed bureaucracy and increased transparency. We are challenging the traditional ways of buying and are ready to be held to account for that.

Does the Minister agree that if a company fails to deliver on a contract, it should be put on a list and not allowed to bid for any future contracts?

As I noted in my previous answer, we believe in accountability and in being able to “shop” those examples where that occurs. We take action on every such example and I am confident that that will cover what the right hon. Gentleman seeks.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the sheer cost inflicted on smaller businesses trying to bid for public contracts is prohibitive? What are the Government doing to reduce the cost of bidding for public contracts? Unless we reduce the cost, they simply will not bid.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have streamlined the procurement process by introducing faster and simpler procedures. We have removed bureaucracies such as pre-qualification questionnaires for contracts below the European Union threshold. We are also continually finding ways to help SMEs and others to navigate their way across Government. We look forward to continuing to work with my hon. Friend’s Committee to do more of that.

I will answer that by quoting evidence submitted to the Public Administration Committee by the Market Research Society, which said that it

“applauds the activity of the Crown’s Representative for SMEs…and the ‘Mystery Shopper Scheme’ enabling SMEs to report examples of good and bad practice”.

Those are ways in which we are holding our own systems to account. We want to do more and it is vital to get SME representatives around the table to do so. I shall be doing more work on that this afternoon.