Public-private Partnerships (Competition)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:01 pm on 23rd November 2006.

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Photo of Campbell Martin Campbell Martin Independent 12:01 pm, 23rd November 2006

To ask the First Minister whether there are sufficient economic operators within the PPP contract market in Scotland to ensure that the requirement for genuine competition is achieved in relation to every contract. (S2F-2565)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

The PPP market in Scotland has strengthened recently. We are now seeing increased competition for PPP projects, with 3 or more consortium bidders for health and schools projects. There are variations in market response across the sectors and in different parts of the country. It is now standard practice to review prospects for every PPP proposal before procurement commences.

Photo of Campbell Martin Campbell Martin Independent

The First Minister will be aware that the European public sector procurement law and the Public Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2006 (SSI 2006/1) require genuine competition for PPP contracts. He might not be surprised if I refer to the North Ayrshire Council schools PPP contract. Is he aware that there were only two bids for that contract, one of which was identified by the council's advisers as being "non-compliant" at the first key stage review, and that the evaluation report that was produced at the first key stage review recorded that the council's advisers

"had been unable to satisfy themselves that the ... bid has sufficient financial or economic standing to pass evaluation at this stage of the process"?

Does the First Minister therefore accept that there was no competition for the North Ayrshire Council schools PPP contract?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I would be happy for Campbell Martin to receive a detailed response to his points from the relevant minister.

I want to make two points. First, as I understand it, Mr Martin has made a number of allegations about that contract and that when investigations have taken place, those allegations have been found to have no foundation, so he should hesitate to make such claims in Parliament.

Secondly, it is important to recognise that public-private partnerships, whereby local authorities and health boards work with the private sector to secure improved facilities in education and in health, are now a tried and tested method of securing competition for contracts and for ensuring value for money for the taxpayer. However strongly Mr Martin and his former colleagues in the SNP might oppose the new PPP buildings, the reality is that we have better hospitals, better schools and better facilities for our young people and our sick and elderly people than we have had in Scotland for generations. Over the coming months, we will defend the importance of those facilities in education and in health from the threat that is posed to them by the Scottish nationalists and their former supporters.

Photo of Campbell Martin Campbell Martin Independent

I should clarify that some complaints are still with the Lord Advocate and the procurator fiscal in Kilmarnock, so the matter is not closed.

As the First Minister will accept, the Scottish Executive is responsible for the money for PPP contracts. However, is he aware that when I asked the Executive's scrutineers, Partnerships UK, why it had allowed the North Ayrshire Council contract to proceed on the basis of two bids, one of which was non-compliant and should not have been allowed past the first stage, the chief executive, Mr James Stewart, said:

"In this instance, the Authority"— that is, North Ayrshire Council—

"did not consider it necessary to provide the Evaluation Report"?

Does the First Minister accept that North Ayrshire Council did not provide the Executive's scrutineers with the necessary information to ensure that there was competition? Moreover, will he agree to meet me, or instruct the Minister for Finance and Public Service Reform to meet me, so that I can inform the Executive of what exactly has been going on with the North Ayrshire Council schools PPP contract?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

In addition to the comments that I made last weekend about my family, I also said that I was older and wiser. One thing that I have learned in this job is never to respond to a quotation until I know whether it has been taken in or out of context. It would be better if Mr Martin provided us with all the information that he claims exists, and we will ensure that he receives a detailed response.