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National Procurement Contracts

Volume 602: debated on Wednesday 25 November 2015

3. What discussions she has had with her Cabinet colleagues on ensuring that Northern Ireland benefits from national procurement contracts. (902244)

Northern Ireland firms, like those in the rest of the UK, can apply for large public sector contracts through the Official Journal of the European Union. The Government have also set a target that one third of central public procurement spend is delivered by small and medium-sized enterprises. Government Departments and their Northern Ireland Executive counterparts are here to help companies benefit from improved access to public sector contracts, and that includes companies in Northern Ireland.

I know that the Minister, like me, is proud of the contribution that Thales, Bombardier and Harland and Wolff, which are in my constituency, make. However, following Monday’s strategic defence and security review, will the Minister, alongside the aerospace, defence and security group, undertake to organise a round table, where companies in east Belfast and across Northern Ireland can ensure that they avail themselves of the opportunities in forthcoming procurement contracts?

The hon. Gentleman is right that Northern Ireland’s skill base is perfect for increasing and exploiting its aerospace companies. I was delighted to visit Thales not long ago—it recently won another order in Malaysia. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise agrees that the hon. Gentleman has put forward a good idea, and I will be delighted to arrange that round table with him and my right hon. Friend.

With 90% of firms in Northern Ireland being SMEs, what support is being put in place to safeguard their interests when collaborative procurement is promoted?

My hon. Friend is correct that SMEs suffer when bureaucracy is too great, and that is why the Cabinet Office has been leading the red tape challenge, which is designed to reduce red tape for small business. If we continue to progress on those lines, small business will have an opportunity to thrive and take advantage of the low corporation tax that will hopefully be delivered in 2018. [Interruption.]

Order. I can scarcely hear the Minister’s mellifluous tones, partly because there is too much noise and partly because the Minister understandably looked back at the person whom he was answering. His full visage should face the House—I feel sure that the House will benefit.

Will the Minister commit to meeting senior representatives of Northern Ireland companies who have serious concerns about delays and waste in the UK’s defence procurement procedures?

As a former aerospace worker, I know the extent to which delay can damage the supply chain. Under the leadership of our Defence Procurement Minister, we have improved defence procurement since I was working in aerospace and the previous Government were awarding contracts. I would be delighted to meet the heads of the hon. Lady’s businesses, and to ensure that they are getting an efficient service from the contracting Departments and that more business is done in Northern Ireland.