Its understandable that MPs who where debating “The Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body” last Tuesday turned their attention to where the contractors who will rebuild the Palace of Westminster are to come from. After all every MP comes from a different part of the UK and every one of them travels every week that Parliament is open to attend the House of Commons. However sending an MP from somewhere like the Isle of Skye or Northumberland or Cumbria or the West of Wales to London is not a very good fit but it does enable the whole nation to be listened to. Indeed many people including myself would argue that in the light of the need for MPs to be moved out of Westminster because of the building work, that in fact they should be relocated to somewhere in the centre of our Nation like Meridian. But their travel is based on 650 people and therefore not a major challenge. However if the number of MPs was to be multiplied by say 10 we would then suddenly be raising many more challenges. Yet the building site will in fact need many more than 650 workers at different times. It is fantastic that MPs like Chris Matheson who represents Chester should want businesses from his community to do well as a result of this job. However to argue that they should be able to have an equal share in the business involved in rebuilding the House of Commons makes no sense at all. After all there are many building needs across the nation. However Chris stated:
“The project is of national significance and is relevant to every part of the UK. Regions and nations across the United Kingdom should have the opportunity to benefit economically from the parliamentary building works. Work should be spread across the United Kingdom and across companies of different sizes. The project provides us with a wonderful opportunity to invest in people’s futures by upskilling them and by working with small and medium-sized enterprises as well as larger businesses. It is incumbent on the Sponsor Body to ensure that all areas of the country benefit from the programme, including businesses outside London and the south-east. Market engagement and involvement must begin early and reach as widely as possible to include geographically diverse companies.”
It would perhaps make sense for someone like Chris to take the trouble to speak to people who run businesses with a focus on the environment and on the wellbeing of their staff. There are many businesses across the nation including some in the South East who do not find it easy travelling into London for work in any case and who also take the view that travelling any more than two hours from their location delivers a poor result for their teams. This adds to the environmental impact and to the social impact of each worker. Indeed one of my biggest frustrations is how the Government opens up its procurement mechanisms in such a way that they demand that local building work gets carried out by companies based many miles away simply because their focus is on large companies. Now to be fair Chris did refer to the need for small and medium size enterprises to be included along with big businesses. This presents a very different challenge. The phrase relates to three categories of businesses. Micro enterprises have 1-9 staff and turnover of less than £2m, Small Businesses have 10-49 staff and turnover of less than £10m and Medium Sized Businesses have 50-250 staff and turnover of less than £50m. The inability of Government and MPs to grasp that the phrase is too blunt is very clear. The problem with linking businesses of say 5-15 people with businesses of 200+ and then stating that if the state gives contracts to the 200+ that they are in fact helping those with 5-15 is deeply concerning. What is needed is to ignore the demand that business in places like Kyle of Lochalsh or Truro or Morpeth or Workington or Haverfordwest or Truro should help rebuild the Palace of Westminster and instead focus on the need for Micro Enterprises to be given a priority over small businesses, and for small businesses to have a priority over medium size businesses and big businesses. The reason for this is that smaller businesses create better jobs if they win contracts directly as the profit from their contract goes more evenly to the people carrying out the work rather than to investors who sit comfortably at their offices watching their income rise for not having done any work. By the same token awarding jobs directly to small businesses avoids the risk of bodies such as Interserve and Carillion damaging the businesses that do the work. It will cost the Government a bit more in project management and administration, but it will give them higher levels of accountability from the workers and this should deliver higher quality final results.