The challenge that many of us face is keeping up to date with the myriad of consultations and questionnaires that emerge on a regular basis. Sadly it seems like almost every day that questions emerge from people on the phone or via emails that are clearly scams. This is of course a setting where many people have been caught out and that is why some dishonest people try to steal our money or our identity using that approach. Of course, there are also many genuine requirements that are set out by agencies such as Councils and the Police and the Government as they seek to improve their provision. The challenge for some of us is to be confident if we are approached by a public sector agency that our views and knowledge will be welcomed by them. However, we also need to be reassured that they will use the responses in a way that will improve their work. I was unaware until a few days ago that back on the 15th December the Government published a document called “Green Paper: Transforming public procurement” and along with the document that they also included a series of questions. We have been asked to respond to these questions and need to do so by a week on Wednesday on the 10th March. If the Government is serious about this, then there is a very strong reason why locations such as here in Sussex should participate in the response. The reason for this is that our economy is very strongly orientated towards small and indeed micro businesses. The introduction to the document clearly sets out to indicate that this is a good match. The first few words from Lord Agnew are
“The UK spends some £290 billion on public procurement every year. This huge amount of government spending must be leveraged to play its part in the UK’s economic recovery, opening up public contracts to more small businesses and social enterprises to innovate in public service delivery, and meeting our net-zero carbon target by 2050.”
This seems a very important for our region. There are also some more details in this blog of mine a few days earlier. However, and that is a big However, is the Government genuinely interested in our views or will they largely be ignored which represents a type of scam? The reality is that just as we are about to reach the deadline to respond to these questions, that a few days ago in the House of Commons there were some discussions on public procurement and sadly the responses from the Government towards local MPs were rather disappointing. Those public procurement questions related to the COVID-19 issues and the debates took place after the Government had been told by the High Court that they had failed to follow through the current procurement rules. Last Monday Caroline Lucas asked a question that included the request
will the Prime Minister now publish details of who benefited from the VIP lane, who lifted the velvet ropes for those favoured companies, what price they were paid and why they were chosen?
and the response from the Prime Minister was
As for the contracts that the hon. Lady just mentioned, all the details are on the record
which is clearly not the case. And then on Wednesday Peter Kyle asked a question that was responded to by a deputy of Matthew Hancock who claimed
As I have made clear, and as has been made clear, all contracts that were awarded were assessed by an eight-stage process run by the civil service—checking due diligence, appropriateness, ability to deliver and price
which seems very different to the judgement from the High Court. We now have 10 days to respond to the questions that Lord Agnew has set out. One way of improving the prospect of these being answered is for all of our Sussex MPs to contact the businesses and social enterprises in their constituencies to respond. One of the items included in the document is the explanation that
The Government proposes establishing a new unit, supported by an independent panel of experts, to oversee public procurement….The Government proposes establishing this unit within the Cabinet Office. Civil servants would undertake investigations based on information and data generated through improved transparency
Now of course no doubt some people are very confident in the Cabinet Office but there are also people who are not at all confident of it. In addition, the source of the independent experts is vital if we are to improve matters. Sadly, there was no questions regarding either of those aspects. Perhaps we could get the Sussex MPs to do more than encourage their constituents to respond to this set of questions. They could ask businesses if there are better ways of establishing a new unit and also how to set out the potential group of experts.