No block on foreign suppliers providing UK critical infrastructure

Paul Snell is managing editor at Supply Management
7 June 2013

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Foreign suppliers should not be stopped providing goods or services that form part of the UK’s critical national infrastructure, according to MPs.

A report by the Intelligence and Security Committee published this week said it would not be practical to restrict the contribution to utilities, IT or transport infrastructure to UK companies. Nor would this necessarily “provide full protection given the global nature of supply chains”.

But the committee did urge the government to establish a procedure for measuring and monitor the risks through the life of the contract and beyond. The government has now developed such procedures to assess risks associated with foreign investment, but “whether these processes are sufficiently robust remains to be seen”.

MPs were looking at this issue as much of the UK’s critical infrastructure – which if it were to fail would lead to “severe economic or social consequence or to loss of life”.

Concerns have been raised over the involvement of foreign companies as providers of this.

“The difficulty of balancing economic competitiveness and national security seems to have resulted in stalemate. Given what is at stake, that is unacceptable,” the report said.

It also questioned the failure of the civil servants to inform ministers about BT’s commercial deal with a Chinese supplier, indicating “a complacency which was extraordinary given the seriousness of the issue”.

A statement from BT said: “BT believes all major infrastructure companies have a responsibility to ensure their infrastructure is secure, whether it be telecoms related or not. This involves the testing of third party equipment both before and after deployment to ensure there are no vulnerabilities.

“BT has done that from the outset, working with a wide range of suppliers, and we are pleased the report recognises this. The experts at GCHQ say BT is an ‘exemplar’ and that the UK network has not been at risk due to the measures we have taken.”

Both the US and Australian governments have prevented the involvement of Chinese vendors in supplying or tendering for government telecoms infrastructure projects.

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