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Government Procurement: Small Businesses

Volume 638: debated on Wednesday 28 March 2018

6. What steps his Department is taking to support the use of small businesses in Government procurement. (904623)

11. What steps his Department is taking to support the use of small businesses in Government procurement. (904629)

Small businesses are the engine of our economy and we are determined that they should get their fair share of Government contracts, which is why we have set an ambitious aspiration for a third of procurement spend to be with small and medium-sized enterprises by 2022. We will shortly announce further measures to help us to achieve that target.

We understand that High Speed 2 will bring vast benefits to our economy in the west midlands, including £4 billion-worth of economic growth and 50,000 extra jobs, but small businesses in Redditch say to me that they are not sure how to bid for the contracts. What advice can the Minister give them?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. Small businesses throughout the country create millions of jobs and it is important that they are able to access large contracts such as HS2. Public sector contracts are advertised on the Contracts Finder website, which is free and easy to use, and bidders can request information as they need it. I encourage businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency and elsewhere to take advantage.

As my hon. Friend will know, small businesses are the backbone of the UK economy. It is the Government’s responsibility to make sure that they can compete equally for public sector contracts. Will my hon. Friend tell the House what he is doing to level the playing field?

We are constantly looking into new ways to reduce the barriers to small businesses working with the public sector, which is why we have already scrapped complex pre-qualification questionnaires for low-value contracts. We require public sector buyers to split contracts into accessible chunks for small businesses, and I am pleased to confirm that we will reopen the G-Cloud to new suppliers, which will further help small businesses.

We are very short of time. I sometimes think we have time for the questions but not always for the answers. We need to be pretty dextrous about this.

Small businesses in Dudley South have shown that they can compete with the biggest names in the world. Will the Minister help them to compete for Government contracts by publishing all contracts worth more than £10,000 on the Contracts Finder website?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and all contracts worth more than £10,000 are published on the Contracts Finder website. Indeed, more than 25,000 organisations are currently registered with Contracts Finder, of which 64% are small and medium-sized enterprises.

Public procurement was meant to be one of the Brexit dividends, but it is not going very well with the Passport Office. Will the Minister tell us specifically what will change?

I have to say to the hon. Lady that, as we leave Europe, it is important that we remain an open economy, and I have every confidence in the way in which that procurement was conducted. We should be sending a signal that, just as we expect foreign businesses to be able to bid for contracts here, we have an open system in this country.

I hear that the problem for small businesses is that they are often denied the chance to bid for work, because they are told by various people that it is down to Government procurement rules, so local businesses, in particular, are kept out. What more is the Minister doing to ensure that local businesses get local contracts?

It is very important that local businesses can get local contracts. The first thing that the Cabinet Office is doing is ensuring that as we re-let contracts, we split them into small amounts so that they are easier for small businesses to bid for, and we have extensive engagement before we let the contract to ensure that as wide a range of businesses as possible can access it.

In Brazil, 30% of food for school meals has to be sourced from local or family farms. France has just introduced a similar law on local, organic provision in public procurement. Why can we not do it here?

I know the hon. Lady’s commitment to this cause. As a result of the changes made under this Government, we allow contracts to take into account factors such as the local sourcing of food, as long as it is provided to all businesses.