The Labour opposition has said public procurement in a post-Brexit world should be used to improve supply chains and tackle carbon emissions.
Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central, told the House of Commons’ Delegated Legislation Committee procurement should be used to “give the broadest gain for the taxpayer”.
During a debate to pass a statutory instrument to ensure the legality of public procurement regulations at the end of the Brexit transition period, Blomfield said: “The opposition’s ambition for procurement is not limited to price.
“We want more public bodies to be able to use procurement to strengthen employment standards, improve supply chains, tackle carbon emissions and support other policy objectives – using public money to give the broadest gain for the taxpayer, as part of joined-up government.”
He added: “For too long, ministers have hidden behind EU procurement laws as a reason not to do more, while other countries have used the same procurement framework to improve economic and social outcomes.
“We could, for example, apply the principles of the Welsh Government’s code of practice for ethical employment, which promotes decent jobs and the living wage, and protects against exploitative practices at work.”
Blomfield said the Local Government Association had called for shorter timescales, lighter-touch advertising requirements and award procedures, speeded-up legal challenges, more negotiation with suppliers, and a focus on SMEs and voluntary, community and social enterprises in any new regulations.
Blomfield asked for an assurance that the new UK e-notification service to advertise tenders, which will replace OJEU, would be ready in time.
Julia Lopez, parliamentary undersecretary at the Cabinet Office, said: “I have spoken to officials about it, and I am assured that the new system, moving away from the EU’s notification system, will be up and running by 11 o’clock on 31 December.”
Blomfield raised the issue of transparency around the awarding of contracts without competition during the coronavirus pandemic.
“In recent months, the government have delayed publication of awarded contracts long after the required timescales. They have heavily redacted the details of those contracts, needlessly avoided competitive tendering, and used commercial sensitivity as an excuse not to provide basic information to reasonable questions, such as: what are the names of Serco’s 29 contact-tracing subcontractors?
“Even allowing for the challenges of the pandemic, that is simply not good enough. The government must meet the minimum levels of transparency and the highest standards that we expect to underpin procurement rules.”
Lopez replied: “I want to ensure that we retain public confidence in everything that we do on contracts that have been let. We are working with the National Audit Office on those issues.”
She said ministers were “looking at” a draft of a green paper on post-Brexit procurement regulations.
☛ Want to stay up to date with the news? Sign up to our daily bulletin.