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Procurement Programmes: Supply Chain

Volume 616: debated on Monday 7 November 2016

1. What steps he is taking to ensure that SMEs are included in the supply chain for defence procurement programmes. (907088)

May I add my congratulations to Andy Murray? Having said those remarks, I am sure that Mr Speaker will be able to watch many more matches played by the world’s No. 1 tennis player. It is absolutely fantastic news.

Small businesses are vital for growth and innovation, whether they work directly with the Ministry of Defence or through our prime contractors. We have committed to increase our direct and indirect procurement spending with small and medium-sized enterprises from 19% to 25% by 2020.

It is good to hear from the Minister that our armed forces can benefit from the innovation and entrepreneurship of small businesses. However, one such business in my constituency tells me that dealing with the Department can sometimes be overly bureaucratic, including the need to apply to remain on a list of approved suppliers. Can the Minister take any steps to simplify the process and encourage even more small businesses to come forward?

We recognise that processes are overly bureaucratic. We have got rid of the idea of an approved suppliers list, and we are working hard to reduce red tape. We are introducing a shorter contract and a network of supply chain advocates. May I suggest that any businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency or any other contact the relevant supply chain advocate? I look forward to sending my hon. Friend those details later today.

Will the Minister outline what steps are being taken to help British businesses? In that context, will she tell us why the Department decided to procure combat garments for the Army from a Spanish company rather than a Scottish one?

We welcome competition in procurement for all our contracts. We also recognise that our £178 billion equipment budget is being spent with more than 5,000 businesses here in the UK.

SMEs make up a large part of the helicopter manufacturing industry in my constituency and they are worried that the potential local closure of GKN foreshadows an erosion of that. What support can my hon. Friend provide to keep a full helicopter manufacturing capability in the Yeovil area?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s fantastic work representing his constituents in Yeovil and the magnificent work that they do. We took delivery of the most recent Wildcat helicopter just in the last month. We look forward to working with Leonardo in Yeovil as part of a major strategic partnership agreement. It is important that my hon. Friend puts such issues about helicopter manufacturing forward as part of the industrial Green Paper that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will produce later this year.

Last week’s announcement on the Type 26 frigate was good news for Scotland. What steps have been put in place to ensure that UK SMEs and larger companies, for example those based in the north-east of England, will gain work from this contract?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight this fantastic news for companies up and down the country, including our shipbuilders on the Clyde. We have already announced contracts worth some £1.9 billion which are related to this programme right across the UK. Importantly, we will be publishing, alongside our prime contractor, the opportunities for the British steel industry to bid into this manufacturing opportunity.

One reason we have bureaucracy, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey), is to ensure that SMEs stay in business during the whole course of a contract. The biggest enemy of any SME is a poor cash flow. What is the Department doing to ensure that SMEs are paid promptly?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight that this is an important issue, which is why the Ministry of Defence is so committed to being able to pay our invoices promptly. We give that guidance to our prime contractors, and I would certainly like to hear of any examples from Members of where prime contractors are not passing on that prompt payment from the MOD to their suppliers.

The Minister will be aware of the fabulous job being done by SMEs and large companies to deliver the Royal Navy carriers at Rosyth, both of which are on time and on budget. How does she plan to reward Rosyth and its highly skilled workforce after the carriers are gone? What good news has she got for Rosyth today?

I would have thought the hon. Gentleman might have started by welcoming Friday’s announcement about the shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde, but he is absolutely right that it is a wonderful national moment as we complete these two fantastic carriers at Rosyth. I am sure he and I are both looking forward to seeing the Queen Elizabeth sail down the Forth some time next year. Given the ambitious shipbuilding strategy that we have and the national shipbuilding strategy that will be announced nearer to the autumn statement, I am sure that there will be great news for shipbuilding across Scotland and the whole of the UK.