HC Deb 03 July 1985 vol 82 cc321-2
7. Mr. Stern

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what further initiatives he has taken to seek to facilitate access by small firms to procurement contracts for supplies to his Department.

Mr. Trippier

In addition to previous measures to improve small firms' access to Government business, my Department recently published a new version of our booklet, "Tendering for Government Contracts". That gives an up-to-date account of what the main purchasing Departments buy, their basic procedures and whom to approach.

Mr. Stern

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that initiative. What proportion of Government procurement goes to small firms? Do such figures as are available include sub-contracting by small firms?

Mr. Trippier

Only recently I authorised a study, which is being conducted by the Department of Trade and Industry, into the destination of sub-contracts as they are placed by major Ministry of Defence suppliers. I hope that that information will be available early next year, but in the middle of the year at the latest. That would improve the statistical base to which reference was made in an earlier question by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown).

Mr. Meadowcroft

Does the Minister see it as his job to do battle with other Government Departments, for example, to achieve a target for small businesses engaged in procurement from the the Government? What success does he have in such negotiations with other Departments?

Mr. Trippier

I do not know that I would use the word battle. That might be appropriate when referring to the relationship to which I referred, with the Ministry of Defence. If it was a battle, certainly we won it, and I was pleased with the response that I received from the then Minister of State for Defence Procurement, who is now the Minister for Information Technology. It is a role of mine, as Minister with special responsibility for small firms, to cross departmental boundaries and try to encourage Departments to respond in the way that the Ministry of Defence responded.

Sir Kenneth Lewis

Is my hon. Friend aware that while it is helpful to provide information to small businesses to enable them to deal with the labryinth of bureaucracy, that is not enough? Is he further aware that we need a change of attitude in his and other Departments to give a slight discrimination in favour of small businesses, instead of keeping to the old pattern, which many in the Departments tend to do?

Mr. Trippier

Broadly, I agree with my hon. Friend. Perhaps the impression has been given by the Government that we do not discriminate in favour of small firms, though I have heard it said by colleagues that we try to remove the disadvantages of size for small firms. In truth, we discriminate in favour of small firms. We have been doing so since 1979, are doing that now and will continue to do so. Many of our schemes are tailored only to the small firms sector. In some of the measures that have been introduced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, there is, for instance, the small firms corporation tax rate, and 75 per cent. of the schemes which are referred to in "Support for Business", the new publication which we have issued, are targeted at the small firms sector and are not available to large firms as a whole. Indeed, nor shall they be, because small firms have the wealth and the employment creation potential.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

What proportion of the contracts let by the Department of Trade and Industry are competitive contracts as against non-competitive contracts such as those let, say, to Aish and Company of Poole, which ripped off the Government through excess profit-taking and had to pay back £400,000 to the Department of Defence, and, indeed, must pay back more?

Mr. Trippier

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to be familiar with the company to which he has referred. If he has a specific complaint, perhaps he would write to me or come to see me. I shall certainly have a look at it.