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What discretion local authorities have within his Department’s guidelines on public procurement.
The Public Contracts Regulations 2015, which govern the conduct of public procurement in the UK, apply in full to all public sector organisations, including local authorities.
Will the Minister confirm that it is perfectly legal for local authorities to be able to set their own procurement rules, taking into account additional factors, such as the suppliers’ human rights record and the environmental impact?
Local authorities must comply with European Union law, which is enshrined in the public contracts regulations. The Government provide guidance on how those regulations should be applied, and I encourage local authorities to take that guidance into account when they are framing their procurement policies.
Will my right hon. Friend tell me roughly how many people he has in his departmental staff who have run a small business and who can, therefore, understand the needs and requirements of small businesses when they seek to procure public sector contracts and come up against this continual wall of bureaucracy?
My enormous departmental team of two comprises one person who has run several small businesses and another who is a sole trader. That is a 100% fulfilment on my hon. Friend’s request. We also have a small and medium-sized enterprise ambassador, Emma Jones, who works with the council to ensure that we do precisely what he wishes, which is to sensitise the civil service and procurement officials to the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises.
Before he quit, a friend of mine empowered Waitrose managers—[Interruption.] I will not name him. He empowered Waitrose managers to go out and procure local product. Can we not give similar encouragement to bodies such as county and district councils?
I commend everything that my hon. Friend’s friend has done in his previous role, and I know that he will bring that expertise, in due course, to the people of the west midlands. Although councils and all public bodies cannot choose according to geographical criteria, what they can and must do is take into account the social value of their procurement policies, which is why there is considerable latitude for them to have a similar approach to the one that his friend conducted at Waitrose.
Ministers have talked a great deal about linking apprenticeships to public procurement contracts, which is a sensible use of public funds to meet both the skills agenda and to help narrow inequality in society. However, the Government’s own Social Mobility Commission confirmed last week that only 10% of new apprenticeships are taken up by those from low-income families. Given the Cabinet Office’s unique place to promote this agenda, what is the Minister doing to tackle this unacceptable situation?
The hon. Gentleman raises a completely just point. The whole purpose behind our apprenticeship programme is to give opportunities to people who would not otherwise have them. That is why the 3 million target that we have across the economy is so important. The public sector will contribute a significant proportion of that, and I am responsible for the civil service component. We are doing very well on the civil service apprenticeship numbers. Two weeks ago, we launched a set of standards that will apply to some of the civil service apprenticeships. I hope that, in time, we will be able to fulfil exactly the aspiration that we both have in ensuring that that helps social mobility.