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New procurement bill doesn't do enough for private sector says business lobby group

PRoposed new Scottish laws on public-sector procurement "miss the opportunity" to cut costs and improve services, and contradict the SNP Government's own advisers, CBI Scotland has claimed.

In an unpublished response to the Scottish Government's consultation on the Procurement Reform Bill, the employers' lobbying body criticises it for ignoring proposals laid out in the Scottish Government-commissioned Independent Budget Review (IBR) led by the SNP-supporting businessman Crawford Beveridge, and the Commission into the Future Delivery of Public Services chaired by the late former STUC general secretary, Campbell Christie.

While stressing support for the bill's "focus on minimising bureaucracy", the response is strongly critical of the bill's perceived failure to progress Christie's vision of "competitive neutrality between all potential suppliers of public services".

CBI Scotland deputy director David Lonsdale told the Sunday Herald: "The bill was a welcome opportunity to open up the delivery of public services to the private and third sectors and to put into effect the recommendations of the Independent Budget Review and the Christie Commission, to encourage greater diversity in the provision of public services.

"The IBR called for a 'mainstream role' for the private and third sectors in the delivery of public services - and to ensure services are transparently delivered by the most appropriate provider, rather than automatically awarding contracts in-house.

"The Christie Commission called for clearer rules to ensure 'competitive neutrality' between commercial, not for profit, and public-sector or existing in-house providers. The bill falls well short of what is required."

Obstacles to the outsourcing of public-services delivery include a ban on companies providing GP practices following the Government's 2010 Tobacco and Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Act, ministerial bans on private firms from providing hospital catering and cleaning services, and the restricting of licences to provide building-control services to local authorities.

CBI Scotland has previously maintained that greater use of private-sector or third sector providers could improve services in local roads management and maintenance (trunk-roads maintenance is already outsourced), local authority customer contact centres, and the so-called "back office" services such as local authority finance and payroll.

Set out in the 2011 SNP manifesto, the Procurement Reform Bill is intended "to make clear the legislative framework for procurement decisions and support greater use of social and environmental considerations". Consultation on the policy content ended earlier this month, with analysis and publication of the 200-plus responses expected next month. A report will be published "no later than January 25, 2013".

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: "We are pleased that CBI Scotland has taken the time to contribute a detailed response to the consultation.

"It is important that Scotland's business community plays a full and meaningful role in shaping new laws to improve the way the public sector buys goods, works and services. We will consider the comments from CBI Scotland and responses from other organisations and individuals carefully."

Contextual targeting label: 
Finance

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