Public Procurement and the Civil Society Strategy - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:25 pm on 23rd May 2019.

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Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 3:25 pm, 23rd May 2019

I will reflect on that. I understand exactly the point that the noble Lord makes and that there would be value in extending it upwards. Perhaps I will write to him when I have taken advice on that.

We would be very happy to discuss the network of social value champions with partners in the sector.

One of the main themes emerging from the debate has been the need for the Government to encourage as wide a range of suppliers as possible to deliver the objectives we have been discussing. We remain fully committed to supporting small and medium-sized enterprises and the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector, and indeed helping the mutuals that my noble friend referred to. Our work with sector bodies and individual companies through the Crown representative network will continue, unlocking more opportunities for smaller businesses and those owned by underrepresented groups, as well as mutuals and charities.

Initiatives around prompt payment, simpler bidding processes, better visibility of opportunities in the supply chain and the Public Procurement Review Service have all been established to stimulate SMEs and VCSE organisations as the lifeblood of the economy. Our approach underpins this. I understand the point made by my noble friend Lady Finn and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, about prompt payment. I believe prompt payment is a condition of any public sector contract. If a contractor does not promptly pay he runs the risk of being removed from the list of approved contractors. I was interested in the noble Lord’s suggestion that the Small Business Commissioner might have his energies harnessed in this area. I will certainly reflect on that.

With the Crown representative for VCSEs we are producing supporting guidance for smaller organisations bidding as part of consortia, and have helped buyers to better understand how they can level the playing field for SMEs and VCSEs in our introductory guidance on the social value Act. In line with best practice in policy-making, we are piloting the outline framework to see how it will be applied in practice and to help formulate the guidance on evaluating bids fairly and consistently. Two of these pilots are for major national contracts and one is a national framework agreement. Let me be clear that, in doing so, the Government are absolutely committed to ensuring it does not add complexity or cost to the procurement process. We do not want to restrict markets or exclude small businesses and voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations from government contracts.

It is always the misfortune of the Opposition spokesman to have the answers to his questions arrive right at the end of a debate. I am afraid that misfortune has fallen once again on the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. I will convert the handwritten notes I have in front of me into something legible and typed up and write to the noble Lord to deal with the issues he raised about instilling social value procurement, what steps we are taking to create a standard definition, how this will link to the public sector equality duty, which is an important point that he raised, and how we will make Whitehall a leading partner in social procurement.

We want to see more good practice and to accelerate the opportunities available for the UK’s small businesses and VCSEs. In the words of I think my noble friend Lady Finn, we want to put social values at the heart of service delivery. This new approach is the next step in our journey of transforming how the Government are delivering smarter, more thoughtful and effective public services. We will utilise our huge purchasing power to deliver on our promise of a fairer society that works for everyone.