The Labour Party – procurement manifesto for 2015 (part 2)

We continue with our leaked report on public procurement, prepared for the Labour Party in readiness for the 2015 election, less than a year away now. Today we feature the forward-looking element of the report.

Part 2 – Building a successful and fairer society

So how can we in the Labour party present ideas concerning public sector procurement as a positive feature in our manifesto?

Our overall theme in the manifesto will be that the average voter has missed out on economic recovery, whilst the rich get richer. We can take this theme into public procurement too. The popularity of our pledge to freeze energy prices suggests that a similar option for government contracts might go down similarly well. We could propose a two-year price freeze for all suppliers to the public sector. That would of course be badly received by supply markets, but an exception for small suppliers might defuse some of that.

And we should highlight that despite all Francis Maude’s rhetoric, the CEOs of firms like Serco, G4S and Capita are paying themselves millions – and those sums just keep increasing, year after year. Our wider actions on executive salaries will put a stop to this, we can say.

The other main thrust in procurement terms should be around supporting our wider agendas of localisation and innovation - to drive economic growth and better jobs for our people. We should state that we will adopt a policy of disaggregating public contracts, breaking large contracts up into smaller parts, as many other countries in the EU already do. This is allowable and indeed encouraged under the new EU Regulations but the current government has chosen not to implement this provision. We should.

This will allow smaller and more local firms have a realistic chance to win public sector work. We should stop the centralisation of procurement in central government, and again point out that this simply means many small and local firms losing government business. We should therefore announce a review of the Crown Commercial Service, to examine the options around breaking it up into regional chunks, perhaps aligned with current regional buying organisations.

Whilst we are not against to all outsourcing, in some areas it is very unpopular, so we should come out and oppose it. We should say we will stop the MOD DE&S outsourcing – do we really want Bechtel or Halliburton buying weapons for our brave troops? Outsourcing of sensitive areas such as probation services and children’s services in local government should be reviewed as a matter of urgency – an enquiry should be set up to examine the limits of outsourcing. (Is Sir Peter Gershon available for this? Do we know what his political views are at the moment)?

The voters don't have a lot of sympathy with civil and public servants generally, but they are also nervous about the growing role that private firms are playing in public life. So we need a message of increasing the skills in the public service, to drive better management of suppliers. We should announce a major skills initiative in the manifesto, BUT also emphasise that we will hold civil and public servants to account when they do make mistakes.

Finally, ”social value” through procurement. This is a big opportunity for differentiation and will play well with voters. Maude was openly hostile to these ideas, used extensively in Wales and Scotland already (although English voters may not see that as a positive, so positioning needs to be careful). But explaining that we will place more emphasis on issues such as job creation, supporting local communities and the like when we choose suppliers will be seen very positively, we believe. (What this might do to value for money is another issue of course, but we don’t have to get into that!)

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