Golden spending opportunities to boost economy provided by Brexit
In his weekly Hayes in the House column, Sir John Hayes discusses Brexit and calls on the Government to use British producers.
Public procurement deserves greater attention than it gets. At £300 billion, it accounts for around a third of all public spending each year, just a fraction of which would be sufficient to spread opportunity, improve public services, and support small businesses across the nation.
As a member of the EU we were trapped by a procurement protocol that, in typical Brussels fashion, consisted of four different regimes that created more bureaucrats there than jobs here in Britain.
Brexit brings a golden opportunity to introduce a new system designed to make sure that, whenever possible, public funds are spent on British goods and services.
As a minister, I encountered a peculiar disregard for the national interest when, pressing for British products to be prioritised, the response was that it was not permissible to overcome ‘state aid rules’ that prohibited giving priority to local suppliers.
Already, thanks to Government action following our departure from the European Union, public-sector buyers can reserve certain contracts for UK small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and social enterprises.
Building on this, the recently announced Procurement Bill means that further reform is at hand.
This new focus on public procurement brings a fresh opportunity for those of us who champion buying British to secure that patriotic end.
The Bill, by dismantling the lingering EU regulatory labyrinth, creates a single transparent purchasing scheme with which small business can confidently engage, and so means that the goods upon which we rely can be more readily provided by British suppliers.
Such change is a promising start, but the Government must utilise newfound freedoms to further bolster our national industrial and commercial resilience.
Certainly, central government places countless orders each year for every kind of product, but consider too every hospital, school, prison and local authority.
These, and all other public bodies, should prioritise procurement from British businesses and buy locally rather than needlessly looking far afield to grant huge contracts to overseas suppliers. Wherever possible, the whole of the public sector, spending public money, should buy British, shortening supply lines - with the significant environmental advantages that brings.
Value for money means more than headline prices.
By importing goods from across the globe we have neglected what can be done for domestic job creation and prosperity, as outsourcing billions in British taxpayers money to global corporations returns none of the economic, social or security advantages that come from supporting home-grown businesses.
The shock to worldwide energy and food costs caused by Putin’s war in Ukraine has encapsulated the salience of national economic security.
Acute cost of living pressures are stark reminder that becoming dependent upon unreliable foreign supplies is to court disaster, for when events beyond our control shatter fragile global supply lines, it is hard-pressed Britons that suffer the most.
Giving priority to the produce and skills of British farmers and growers, builders and manufacturers ensures traceability, reduces risks and brings national resilience.
Our primary duty is to our own, and now all public-sector buyers must take that into account when drawing up tenders for hundreds of billions of pounds worth of procurement contracts.By choosing to protect our economy, we can secure all our futures.