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Public Procurement

Volume 727: debated on Thursday 2 February 2023

2. What recent discussions he has had with relevant stakeholders on the potential impact of the Procurement Bill on (a) economic growth and (b) innovation. (903399)

The Procurement Bill is being considered in Committee in the House of Commons. The Bill will create a new public procurement regime that will make it simpler, quicker and cheaper for suppliers, including small and medium-sized enterprises and social enterprises, to win public sector contracts. In developing the proposals for the new procurement regime, the Cabinet Office has worked with hundreds of organisations, and economic growth and innovation have been at the forefront of our minds.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. He will know that UK major projects have had, at best, a mixed history of both procurement and contract management over a long period. How will this Bill embed external expertise in the procurement process and IT productivity systems in the contract management process?

My hon. Friend is right to raise that question. The Cabinet Office is producing comprehensive guidance and a programme of training for contracting authorities, with support for sharing best practice. This will complement efforts that the Cabinet Office is already making to support commercial best practice, including through the contract management capability programme and the provision of a suite of playbooks that provide advice on sourcing and contracting.

My residents in North Norfolk often think that Westminster is a long way away from them. Can my hon. Friend tell me how the Procurement Bill will enable businesses in my constituency—there is an incredible range of talent and innovation there—to bid for the £300 billion-worth of services that the Government procure every year?

I am pleased to be able to tell my hon. Friend that the Bill includes a specific duty on contracting authorities to recognise the particular barriers that SMEs face. Other measures will also benefit SMEs, such as the strengthening of prompt payment requirements, with 30-day payment terms applying contractually throughout the public sector supply chain; a single digital platform, so that bidders only have to submit their core credentials once; and new transparency requirements.

I thank the Minister for his positive answers to the question. Wrightbus in Northern Ireland is an example of where we could contract domestic companies and expand our economy, as opposed to going international. What steps will the Cabinet Office take to ensure that we prioritise domestic contracts within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the devolved Assemblies?

I cannot comment on the specific contract that the hon. Gentleman raises, but he will know from the debate we had in Westminster Hall the other day that the Bill introduces provisions that will mean that contracting authorities publish their pipeline and can publish advance notices of procurement, which will enable businesses and suppliers to get ready for local contracts.

Unfortunately, the Procurement Bill in its current form does very little to prevent a repeat of the VIP scandal that, sadly, contributed to almost £10 billion-worth of personal protective equipment being written off by the Government. We know that sunlight is often the best disinfectant, so will the Minister support our amendment to ensure that any Minister, peer or senior civil servant involved in recommending suppliers under direct award must publicly declare any private interest in that supplier’s success?

The hon. Lady will know from the many debates we are having on this subject that transparency is a key element of our new regime, which replaces the old, outdated EU regulations and will ensure that there is sunlight throughout the procurement process, from start to finish.