Business and political leaders in East Anglia urge shake-up of public procurement system

Norfolk Chanber of Commerce MP conference. Adam Marshall from The British Chamber of Commerce.

Norfolk Chanber of Commerce MP conference. Adam Marshall from The British Chamber of Commerce. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2018

The region’s MPs have encouraged local authorities as well as central government to be “smarter” about how they award contracts for work.

After the collapse of Carillion and news of financial trouble at Capita, the UK’s public procurement system – which is dominated by big contracting groups over smaller companies – is being called into question.

At the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce’s MPs event, the parliamentary panel urged a break-up of the supremacy of such large groups over public sector work – from prison management to construction and school catering – to allow SMEs a bigger slice of the cake.

Richard Bacon, South Norfolk MP, said: “I think the public sector has got to get a lot smarter about this. There is a core of businesses who have got very good at bidding for work but whether they can do it is a different question.”

Mr Bacon said centralising the control of public expenditure in the county to one body would enable better scrutiny of the process.

“In the existing structure, there is more scope to help SMEs get talent in a way that will help the taxpayer which is not happening at the moment,” he said.

West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham said government’s main lesson from the Carillion “debacle” should be the detrimental impact on SME sub-contractors.

“I think there is a real appetite to get some changes here and learn lessons from it,” he said.

Event host Dr Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said local authorities should take a longer-term view, assessing the “value of contracts over their lifetime” as well as the cost.

Matthew Darroch-Thompson, chair of Suffolk Chamber in Newmarket and District, has been working with public and private sector organisations to improve the prospects of local businesses being able to bid for work in connection with a multi-million pound investment at RAF Lakenheath, ahead of the USAF’s deployment of new fighter jets.

“There was a good deal of reluctance at first but then we brought in the ‘big guns’, in the form of MPs, and things suddenly became more hopeful,” he said. “It is early days, with the main contracts not likely to be awarded until the summer, so no subcontracts have been awarded to local firms yet, but we are more optimistic than we were.”

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