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Public Procurement: Small Businesses

Volume 594: debated on Wednesday 25 March 2015

7. What steps he is taking to improve access to Government procurement by small and medium-sized enterprises. (908313)

Over the past five years, we have implemented a wide range of measures to open up the way we do business to make sure that small companies are in the best possible position to compete for contracts. These measures include increasing transparency, making opportunities more accessible, removing unnecessary bureaucracy, improving payment terms and clamping down on poor practice.

I thank the Minister for that answer. He will be aware of the report of the Public Administration Committee that showed that at the time not enough was being done. Does he accept that there still needs to be a real culture change in the civil service to open up Government procurement to small and medium-sized enterprises?

We have obviously made a lot of progress and there is more to do, but we intend to extend and embed the reforms that we have made over the past five years. I would just remind my hon. Friend that at the last general election, only 6.5% of direct central Government procurement spend was with smaller businesses, and we had no idea how much was spent in the supply chain, so we have made huge progress.

The Minister omitted to say in his answer that nine out of 17 Departments spent less with SMEs in 2013-14 than they did in 2012-13. With just 10% of Government contracts going to small businesses, why have this Government been so poor when it comes to procurement from our SME sector?

In 2010, the Government set an aspiration that by 2015 25% of Government procurement spend by value should go to SMEs directly and into the supply chain. In fact, we have exceeded our target, and a record 26.1% is now being spent with SMEs. That is a record to be proud of, and a tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General.

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on all the measures that he and his colleagues have taken on this subject? I know that four businesses in my constituency are currently benefiting from their measures.

I know my hon. Friend is a great champion of small businesses in his constituency. One of the wider benefits of this programme of commercial reform is that it enabled the Government to make the huge saving of £15 billion in the years 2010 to 2014. As I say, that is a lasting tribute to my right hon. Friend.

The Minister might confess that it would help if he bought enough desks for civil servants. In answer to 11 parliamentary questions, Whitehall Departments have told me that they have more civil servants than desks. In the Department for Transport, there are 6,600 officials and 1,500 desks. This sounds more like musical chairs than hot desking. Is it the cause of all the chaos and confusion in this Government?

I am not quite sure whether that is a serious question, because all modern companies and the modern civil service should be hot desking, which is exactly what is taking place.