Vince Cable wants public procurement to buy more from UK firms. (Sigh)

None of our politicians will actually take on the European political establishment when it come to things that really matter, like the fact that the cost of running the EU behemoth rises every year, despite cost constraints in individuals countries. Or the inability of member states to control or restrict immigration that allows free access to both criminal beggars and keen young Poles who take jobs that might have gone to native Brits. Or reform of the common agricultural or fisheries policies.

Repel Boarders! UK Contracts for UK Firms!

But it’s OK to make facile comments about EU rules when it comes to procurement.  All the parties do this from time to time – now it’s Vince Cable’s turn. The Business Secretary told the BBC yesterday:

‘I think it is fair to say in the past - I have said this and government acknowledges it - a lot of public procurement has not been very strategic in Britain.

‘We have been a bit too defensive about the European Union rules.

'We don’t want to become protectionist and nationalist in the way we buy things,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

'But we think we could do a lot more to promote British business though procurement.’

Let’s analyse this. When he says procurement “has not been very strategic” he means “we don’t award all our contracts to British firms”.

When he says we “don’t want to be protectionist” he means “we want to discriminate in favour of British firms, but not so that other countries notice and retaliate by discriminating themselves against British firms”.

How exactly are we going to “promote British business through procurement”? Of course, Cable offers no answer to that question, because there isn’t one.

Cable also mentioned tunneling contracts on railway projects and making sure “as much as possible goes to British business – there’s no harm in that”. So there’s an open invitation to challenge from any disgruntled non-UK firms who don’t win those contracts!

I do think we could make better use of ‘Community benefit / Social requirements’ provisions better in public procurement  – England could learn from Wales (remember Francis Maude being exposed by Radio 4 when he didn’t know what Wales does in this area)?

But that addresses issues such as providing work for the long-term unemployed and foreign bidders must be able to offer options on meeting those criteria as well. It isn’t a way of ensuring the British firm wins the competition.

Personally, I’m increasingly of the view that the future of the UK may lie away from such close ties with the sclerotic European mainland. My daughter’s generation thinks globally and is far more excited about opportunities in Latin America, Indonesia or Uganda than Italy or Germany. But of all the UK political parties, Cable’s is the biggest supporter of  European integration, so he must understand that with membership and the (supposed) benefits comes responsibility – like running fair procurement processes.

But ultimately, this isn’t about actually doing anything. It’s just the BBC looking for and succeeding in getting a reaction in an area that makes for a good story.  The public can nod and say “yeah, go Vince, get those contracts for British firms!” Then everyone just carries on and ignores the big issues like the hundreds of thousands of EU immigrants or the £200 million a week (net) the UK contributes to the EU budget.

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Voices (2)

  1. Final Furlong:

    So if we award a contract to a UK firm who off-shores most activities to another country that would be ok?

    And what if a foreign firm commits to creating many more UK jobs than its UK competitor, like, erm, Siemens?

    You forgot to mention all of those UK firms (and musicians!) who set up their tax arrangements in a way in which they pay very little corporation tax.

    They need to make up their minds but importantly be more informed.

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