My Lords, the Government consider that the adoption of British Standard 95009 may place additional burdens and barriers on small businesses and the expertise of charities, public services, mutuals and social enterprises, as there is a cost to becoming fully accredited. As part of our plans to completely overhaul the procurement regime, we will create a simpler and significantly more transparent system that reduces costs for businesses and the public sector alike, as well as supporting the levelling-up agenda.
My Lords, there is considerable public concern that levelling-up funds or prosperity funds will be politicised, favouring certain areas or businesses. This British Standard lays out how businesses can demonstrate their suitability for public procurement and at the same time enables procuring bodies to assess bidders readily and accurately in a fairer and more open way. Surely this helps companies to become more effective, productive and relevant to their local economy. Is this not exactly what levelling up is about?
My Lords, the Government are committed to introducing new and reformed rules to streamline and simplify the procurement process. That is to add to the levelling-up Bill that will come to Parliament in the near future. This will help to deliver that level playing field for all businesses across this country to supply public services.
My Lords, the Minister referred to a simpler procurement system and that would be welcome. The Government have recently introduced the concept of the most advantageous tender and have changed the term for that from the “most economically advantageous tender”. This phrase appears in the levelling-up White Paper. Does this mean that value in levelling up can in future be as important a procurement test as value for money? I hope it does.
Yes, my Lords, it does. That is one of the things that we are changing. It is important that the principle of public good, which is set out in that White Paper, will become an objective of maximising the public benefit to support wider considerations of social value and other benefits. As part of a requirement on contracting authorities to have regard to the national procurement policy statement, they have to consider the national priority outcomes of their procurement, including social value, which will cement this.
My Lords, has Covid not shown that Britain now no longer produces a range of things that are important to us in times of need? Should the Government not now be looking at what those things are and helping to make sure that they are produced in the UK so that we do not have the problem of sending billions of pounds to China when we have an epidemic like the one we have just had?
The noble Lord is absolutely right. As we put the Bill forward, we will look to ensure that when we have a situation like the recent pandemic, which I am sure the noble Lord is referring to, we have procurement arrangements that are suitable for that.
My Lords, having listened carefully to the Minister’s answers, I am slightly confused. She seems to be saying that rules for proper scrutiny of procurement are being worked on and new legislation—a new Bill—will come forward, yet the Government are spending £300 billion a year on procurement. If we look at some of the recent scandals around PPE, we see there is urgency about this. The British Standard that she referred to is not called “the trust standard” without a reason. It is to create trust in public procurement. Is it not time that the Government sought to do something urgently, perhaps adopting this standard for all major government contracts to be sure that there can be trust in public procurement? At the moment, it is sadly lacking.
I understand what the noble Baroness is saying, but I think it is important that we do this in a measured way. The procurement data will be published in a standard and open format which will make it easier for people to understand. There will be clearer requirements on the identification and management of conflicts of interest, which I am sure is in the noble Baroness’s mind as well, and there will be clear arrangements for how procurement can be conducted in situations where there is extreme urgency, which relates to the previous question. We need to do this in a measured way. We understand that we need to do more, and we will do more. This Bill will come forward shortly.
My Lords, pursuant to the question the Minister has just been asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, will she confirm that her noble friend Lord Kamall said in a parliamentary reply that we purchased more than 20 billion items of PPE from the People’s Republic of China at a cost of more than £10 billion to this country? What does this say about dependency? What does it say about resilience? Will the Minister confirm that she will support the amendment to the Health and Care Bill to be moved later today by her noble friend Lord Blencathra on the subject of procurement of items manufactured in the Uighur-dominated state of Xinjiang?
In any detail, my Lords.
The DHSC has worked tirelessly to source life-saving PPE and has delivered more than 19.1 billion items to the front line. Having too much PPE was preferable to having too little in the face of an unpredictable and dangerous virus. Where contracts are in dispute, the DHSC is seeking to recover costs from suppliers wherever possible. It expects to recover significant amounts of taxpayers’ money.
My Lords, my noble friend will recall that the Chancellor said in his Spring Statement how vital innovation is to the increase in productivity in our economy. Public procurement can play a significant part in promoting innovation. When we follow up on Transforming Public Procurement, will we make sure that small firms in particular have an opportunity for the kind of early, pre-commercial engagement that enables them to meet public procurement objectives in an innovative way?
My noble friend is absolutely right. That is part of what we are trying to deliver with this Bill: making the bidding process simpler particularly for SMEs and VCSEs and making it easier and more efficient for them to bid for these contracts, not just in the normal areas across the country but where we are trying continually to level up.
My Lords, I think that I do not have enough time to answer all that. The United Kingdom is one of the greatest countries in the world, but not everyone shares in its success. Talent is everywhere but opportunity is not, and where people live unfairly affects their chances of getting on in this life. The Government’s central mission is to reverse this unfairness and level up the UK by spreading opportunity more equally across the country, bringing left-behind communities to the level of more prosperous ones. I think that is the answer to the noble Lord.
My Lords, in considering their net-zero targets and procurement, will the Government take account of the amount of carbon imported in products coming from countries that do not comply with the requirements put on our own industry, thus making them uncompetitive but doing nothing to save the planet?