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Public Procurement: Value for Money

Volume 691: debated on Thursday 25 March 2021

The overarching principle in all public procurement is to secure the best value for money for the taxpayer, and that principle lies at the heart of our plans in the procurement Green Paper. Simpler procurement procedures will drive increased competition and innovation in public procurement, ultimately saving taxpayers’ money. We are also due to publish version 3 of the “The Outsourcing Playbook” in spring ’21, which includes 11 key policies that help Government and industry to work better together to deliver quality public services and value for money, and our new approach to social value will help to secure wider public benefit, allowing us to contract with firms that deliver more apprenticeships, local growth opportunities and environmental benefits.

I thank the Minister for her answer, but she will not be surprised to know that taxpayers in east Hull expect Government contracts to be awarded responsibly and fairly, and not with a nod and a wink and a text message between Secretaries of State and pub landlords. Does she want to say something about that to my constituents and perhaps apologise?

I think that the particular thing the hon. Gentleman is referring to relates to personal protective equipment, which I know has attracted a lot of interest. I wish to assure the House that although there has been a lot of discussion about the high-priority lane, it was effectively an email inbox that triaged the thousands of suggestions that were coming in for particular contracts. Even if people got through that—90% of people from that process were rejected—the contracts then went through the same eight-stage process. I wish to assure him that there have been no corners cut.

From the start of this pandemic, the Government chose to use a centralised, privatised approach to contact tracing through a handful of large companies, rather than putting local public health teams in charge. While a growing number of councils have now had to establish their own systems on a shoestring, it is a completely different set of affairs for the expensive management consultancies. Last night, we learned that as well as the Government paying Deloitte £323 million for its role in the Test and Trace system, it is even paid to draft Ministers’ parliamentary answers defending the indefensible. This is a Government who appear even to have outsourced themselves. What will the Minister do to end this practice, or do I need to write to Deloitte to find out?

I thank the hon. Lady for highlighting that interesting piece of information. It is not something I am aware of. I appreciate the concerns that have been raised about the use of consultants in relation to some of the work that has been done during the pandemic. We had to surge our capacity very quickly, but I appreciate the concerns that have been expressed about the cost of contracting. We are doing various things to improve the capability and expertise of the civil service. We are looking at secondments for senior civil servants, and we are looking at having our own in-house consulting hub, but I am very happy to look into this idea that consultants are drafting responses for Ministers. It is not something I am aware of.

It surprised some attendees of the recent OECD global anti-corruption and integrity forum that the Government’s anti-corruption champion defended the Government’s handling of public contracts. That role is occupied by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose). As well as being a Conservative MP, he has, of course, a very close family interest in the Government’s pandemic response. Does the Minister agree that the post of anti-corruption champion must be independent from party politics to avoid the growing conflicts of interest within Government?

I thank the hon. Lady for her concerns, but I have no questions or concerns about the integrity of my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose).

The Minister will be aware of recent mergers and acquisitions of outsourcing companies, some with substantial public contracts worth many millions of pounds, including Mitie, Interserve and, most recently, G4S. Can the Minister tell the House what steps the Cabinet Office is taking to ensure that, in such circumstances, the public interest is protected and does not play second fiddle to the interests of capitalism and greed, as referred to by the Prime Minister a few days ago?

The Prime Minister was asserting the importance of capitalism in being able to get the best answers when finding solutions to difficult problems, and I do not think we should doubt his intentions on that particular matter. I am happy to look into any concerns the hon. Gentleman has about the G4S merger, which I have not looked into personally, but I would be happy to do so. Our officials have regular conversations with key outsourcing providers and often have assurances on the work they undertake.