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I was the Head of Policy and Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland until my retirement in September 2018. I now work on several policy development projects, so all views are very definitely my own. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

MSPs should be bolder on public procurement

The Scottish Parliament is today debating the 1st Stage report on the Procurement Bill.

UNISON strongly supports the ten asks for the Bill from a coalition of coalitions of civil society organisations, including the STUC, Stop Climate Chaos Scotland and SCVO. Organisations with a collective membership of well over three million Scots. The asks include action on blacklisting and tax dodging, a sustainable development focus and measures on ethical/fair trade, employment standards and positive social outcomes. Sadly, Nicola Sturgeon’s letter to the ICI Committee gave little reassurance on addressing the asks with any changes to the Bill. It read like the work of a very tired civil servant, rather than a politically astute minister. Perhaps she is distracted by other parts of her portfolio!

Yesterday we published a survey of care workers who described, in their own words, the shocking state of the care sector in Scotland. One of the actions necessary to tackle this issue is to use public procurement to roll out the benefits of the living wage to all those employed on public contracts. Commendably, much has been done in the public sector, but many services are outsourced to the private and voluntary sectors. This Bill is a major opportunity to make payment of the living wage a stipulation for all public contracts, by including this in performance clauses. The Scottish Government is hiding behind a badly drafted letter to the EU. We have produced legal advice that demonstrates clearly that this is possible within the EU procurement regime.

Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister, who introduced the Bill in October, told the SNP conference that, “We intend to make decent pay the norm, not the exception, in our rich country.” Not taking this opportunity now fails that ambition.

Another ask we have highlighted today is stopping tax dodging companies winning public contracts. We ask, "Are Members on the side of the tax dodgers? Or will you take action to tackle them?" The ICI report notes that Section 23(3)(b)(i) indicates that regulations may provide that where an economic operator has failed to comply with an obligation to pay tax, the operator may not take part in a procurement exercise. The ICI report asks whether the Scottish Government has considered adding provisions to address aggressive tax avoidance as well as illegal tax evasion, as UNISON suggested. MSP's should call on the government to go much further than the UK Treasury/HMRC on this. As Richard Murphy of Tax Research has highlighted, the UK plans will catch only a handful of aggressive tax avoidance schemes.

More than £10bn of public money is spent on contracts with the private and voluntary sector every year in Scotland. That money has the potential to do a lot for tackling inequality in Scotland. MSP's should be bold and use the ten asks to take some radical steps to use the public pound more effectively.

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