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Military Procurement

Volume 577: debated on Monday 17 March 2014

I recognise that small businesses are an important source of innovation and flexibility in meeting defence and security requirements. I am determined to help small and medium-sized enterprises access defence opportunities, including standardising and simplifying our procurement systems, so from this month we are minimising the use of pre-qualification questionnaires and increasing use of standard contract templates for low-risk requirements of under £100,000.

We are regularly making progress on these and other SME initiatives, but we also need to inform the SME community that it is getting easier to do business with the Ministry of Defence, which is why we publish the SME action plan on the website and why I am undertaking a series of regional visits to talk to SMEs, such as the excellent event that my hon. Friend hosted in Hereford on 6 December 2013.

I very much thank my hon. Friend for that reply and for the extremely encouraging news that he has described. There are a large number of specialist defence suppliers in my constituency in Herefordshire. They provide vital new technologies and training for the troops, but they often face huge and apparently unnecessary mark-ups and delays forced on them by the requirement to be part of prime contracts. What can the MOD do to help these companies compete more fairly?

I agree with my hon. Friend that SMEs have an important role to play across defence procurement, but in particular in new technologies and in training. That is why the Government are committed to increasing the proportion of our annual spend on SMEs. Last year that rose to 15% by value of all spend, with some £1 billion spent directly and £2 billion spent indirectly through larger prime contractors, but the proportion of new contracts is even greater with over a third of all new contracts placed with SMEs in each of the last three years.

Devolved Administrations and their arm’s length agencies often have very close relationships with their SME community. What discussions is the Ministry of Defence having with the devolved Administrations to make sure defence contractors based outside England also have an opportunity to bid?

Of course defence, and therefore defence procurement, is not a devolved matter and therefore the work the Ministry of Defence does is primarily with industries right across the country. I have undertaken events in Scotland and I am looking forward to an event in Wales in due course later this year.

May I wish you a very happy St Patrick’s day, Mr Speaker, and no doubt MOD Ministers will be pleased to put on record their appreciation for the increasing co-operation with the Irish defence forces?

In a parliamentary answer on 3 October 2011 the MOD admitted that out of 6,000 SME contracts with the MOD, only 50 contracts were in Scotland, which is 0.83%, just under 10 times less than Scotland’s population share. When will the MOD answer my question on SME spending across the UK by region, which was tabled in January?

As I have said to the hon. Gentleman previously, we do not believe it is relevant to look at the location of where we procure equipment. We want to procure the best equipment for our armed forces from the best place. Scotland of course has a significant share of much of our spending, not least through the aircraft carrier contracts, which I saw for myself last week, and much of that defence work would be at risk were Scotland to vote yes in the referendum in September.