The Government have recently announced proposals for tendering housing management functions and we are considering the responses to the consultation paper "Competing for Quality: Competition in the Provision of Local Services". My only sadness is that I do not have the pleasure of responding to what I suspect was an attempt by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) to wind me up.
Whereas competitive tendering is bringing its successes, will my hon. Friend consider reviewing the non-competitive practices still employed by some Labour-controlled local authorities, who are seeking to preserve themselves in overstaffed departments, rather than getting on with the job of repairing roads, mending schools and cleaning the streets effectively and efficiently, which is what local residents want?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We shall consult about the fairness of the terms of the local authority tendering process because we are determined that tendering should be properly conducted in the interests of the charge payer and the council tax payer next year. We wish to encourage high-quality services, properly managed, delivered at an economic price and that is the purpose of having a level playing field. As I said originally, we shall also consider extensions where we think that that makes sense.
Mr. William O'Brien:
Does the Minister still hold the view that compulsory competitive tendering guarantees quality of service and, if so, how does he justify it? Will he ensure that all future contracting documents under the compulsory competitive tendering system include a quality of service paragraph? Will that apply to contracts for refuse collection, catering, school cleaning, recreation facilities and so on?
It is good practice to include quality clauses. I am pleased that independent research has not shown any deterioration in quality as a result of competitive tendering—[HON. MEMBERS: "What?"] Yes, the evidence is there. When properly conducted it could improve quality, because it gives people management control over quality and a right of redress if things go wrong. We want quality services at a sensible price, which is what competitive tendering can deliver.