Gordon Meldrum, director general of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA), has organised a number of meetings with senior procurement staff from across the public sector to discuss whether the law needs to be changed to prevent criminals from muscling in on contracts funded by the taxpayer.

Staff at the SCDEA and officials in the Scottish Government are now looking at the best way to ensure procurement policies are improved to ensure no public money goes to organised crime, which is already worth £9.2 billion in Scotland.

Mr Meldrum says serious organised crime groups use semi-legitimate businesses as fronts to launder money and top up the money they make from human trafficking, drugs and counterfeit goods.

“It is pay-as-you-go criminality,” he said. “They use this profit from public sector contracts to fund the next round of drugs or other things they consider “commodities” such as human trafficking.

“What I am convinced of is that procurement professionals in the public sector in Scotland work incredibly hard but that their role is very much defined by the need for compliance with the European procurement rules. Whilst this is understandable, I believe that there is much more they and we can do to make sure that we are jointly focused on preventing a single penny of the taxpayer’s money from reaching the hands of a front company for a Serious Organised Crime Group.

“This is why we have been working with senior procurement staff from across Scotland – to explore the possibilities within the existing legislative and regulatory frameworks and to examine whether we require any new powers.”

Public sector spending on goods and services across Scotland, in areas such as health and education services, amounts to around £8bn per year. Procurement guidelines govern the purchasing of these goods and services.

Mr Meldrum added: “As yet we don’t know whether this will require a change in primary legislation. This is a complex issue which we can not solve in the next twelve months. But we need to identify tangible ways to tighten up the procurement process.

“It is very prone to infiltration by serious organised crime groups and it is positive that we are now working with them to harden the procurement system. I have been heartened by their response and by the clear appetite to work with us to make life more difficult for SOCGs.

“In addition we have held a number of meetings recently with local authority chief executives and members of COSLA during which we have raised awareness of the issues around procurement and explored where we might go from here.”

The move follows radical new measures by forces to crack down on organised crime, including disclosing information to public bodies if they are considering giving contracts to firms linked to serious organised crime.

The Strathclyde Police strategy on the problem warns there may be a violent backlash as a result of their concentrating on such groups, but that this “growing concern” has to be tackled.