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14 May 2014 | Gurjit Degun
The Scottish Government has passed the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill with a unanimous vote.
The bill aims to ensure that the £10 billion of public sector spend on contracts is spent “in a way that delivers economic growth, advantages and benefits for our businesses and social benefits”.
During yesterday’s debate, the Scottish Labour party called for living wage amendments to be added to the bill. However members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) voted against this. Previously announced provisions relating to the living wage will still be retained.
Scottish Labour MSP James Kelly told the parliament that making the living wage – which is currently £7.65 per hour, £1.34 higher than the national minimum wage – mandatory within public sector contracts would make a “massive difference” to the 400,000 people on lower wages.
He accused the Scottish Government of dragging its heels. “Do the SNP (Scottish National Party) MSPs want to make a change or have they come to pose in the coffee bars? Let’s not be a pretend wee parliament and stand up and vote for the living wage," he added.
However Alex Johnstone MSP for the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party said that this bill is not the appropriate place to introduce the living wage. He questioned how making the living wage mandatory will be financed, claiming that it could cost care homes a further £1,000 a week per person.
Deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon repeated previous comments saying making the living wage mandatory within public sector contracts would breach EU procurement law. She also said she did not agree with Johnstone’s comments. “If I had felt that the proposed provisions were legally competent, I would have put them in the bill as introduced.”
An amendment from Jackie Bailie MSP for the Scottish Labour Party, which called for annual progress reports, was passed by the parliament. Sturgeon said this is “extremely important so that we know [whether our expectations] have been implemented”.
During the closing speeches, Labour MSP Mark Griffin said: “The Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill could and should have been used to ensure the payment of the living wage in public contracts, to maximise community benefit from procurement, to demonstrate the Scottish Government's commitment to meeting its climate change targets, to condemn the use of exploitative zero-hours contracts, tax avoidance and blacklisting, to promote equality and support contractors committed to achieving equality, to encourage sustainable food procurement, to support skills development with apprenticeships, to support the third sector and to support people with disabilities into employment.”
Sturgeon added: “We have done a difficult job well. We have provided a framework for public procurement that allows us to develop the guidance and the regulations that will give effect to the economic and social objectives that many people – rightly – want public procurement to deliver.
“We are determined to clamp down on tax avoidance, blacklisting and the inappropriate use of zero-hours contracts and to do everything that we can to promote and further the living wage.”
The bill will now be scrutinised by the advocate general, the attorney general or by the secretary of state for Scotland. It will then be submitted for Royal Assent.