Why government must be smarter on procurement

BRITISH industry needs accurate information about future opportunities in the marketplace so it can compete for and win business. That way it can plan ahead and buy the technology, labour and skills to match future needs.

One in every seven pounds in this country is spent by the public sector. That’s an enormous £230bn spent on goods and services. So we are determined to leverage every single penny of central government expenditure to back growth and jobs.

For years under Labour, government didn’t bother to engage properly with potential suppliers. The market didn’t know what the public sector wanted – and government didn’t know what the market could provide. Labour’s arm’s length approach left industry playing a guessing game, curbing its ability to bid for and win government contracts.

But Britain is in a global race. The old approach just won’t do. To allow the country to rise, we have radically overhauled how central government’s procurement is run.

We are determined to make it easier for businesses of all sizes to bid for and win government contracts. Things are already better than under Labour. More small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) than ever are winning business with government. But there’s a long way to go.

Much of what we are doing is sensible – like stripping out unnecessary bureaucracy from the procurement process, or making sure new contract opportunities are advertised clearly online. We’ve also introduced a mystery shopper scheme, where businesses can alert us to poor practice or obstructive procureaucrats.

It makes commercial sense to nurture our relationships with suppliers by discussing what business is coming up. So today I’ve published more details of future government business opportunities over the next five years, which are worth up to £84bn. With over 1,700 contracts for the taking, this will make a real difference to UK companies, including SMEs. The government now publishes procurement pipelines for 18 different sectors.

Putting our future buying needs on display also allows us to be smarter. It means we can spot strategic needs and skills gaps. We need new road and rail to keep the country moving, so we will need more tunnels and more people with skills in tunnel engineering. With both government and private sector investment, the first Tunnelling and Construction Academy in London is now open. It’s training over 400 apprentices who will be able to work on projects like Crossrail and High Speed 2. This is great for UK plc.

Our work to update procurement pipelines does not stop here. We have already started working on the next update for six months’ time. It will need to be more comprehensive, cover more sectors, and be even more user-friendly.

Getting Britain back on the rise is a challenge for us all and that’s why every decision must directly contribute to achieving that end. The more we invest in measures like these, the more we will help UK business grow. This is just the beginning.

Francis Maude is the cabinet office minister and paymaster general.