Hywel Williams – 2023 Speech on the Procurement Bill

The speech made by Hywel Williams, the Plaid Cymru MP for Arfon, in the House of Commons on 9 January 2023.

Procurement in Wales is very much a devolved matter. I would have preferred to see our Senedd introduce its own legislation on the matter, but in this case there is a great deal of co-operation. The Welsh Government have opted to allow the UK Government to legislate on their behalf when it comes to developing post-EU procurement frameworks. Despite this, the Welsh Government are yet to recommend that the Senedd grants consent to the Bill. That is due to outstanding issues with the Bill passed by the House of Lords.

In particular, the Bill provides for concurrent powers in relation to devolved areas; the Welsh Government would much prefer these powers to be amended to be concurrent-plus powers, which would put in place an important constitutional protection by requiring the UK Government to receive consent before exercising powers in devolved areas. The Welsh Government are also concerned about the Bill’s commencement powers. I understand that there was an initial commitment from the UK Government that Welsh Ministers would have commencement powers in the Bill, but, as it is, the Bill provides for Ministers of the Crown to have those powers. I would be grateful if the Minister updated the House as to what progress has been made on those matters.

Given the creeping devolution power grab, I should note that there seems to be a significant degree of co-operation between both Governments on the Bill. I also welcome the fact that some amendments have already been made in the Lords at the request of the Welsh Government. I place on record my support for other amendments made in the Lords, particularly those setting out that requirements on climate change and the environment will be strategic priorities in the national procurement policy statement. I also welcome the amendments that will allow contracting authorities to exclude suppliers from contract awards for their involvement in activities linked to forced organ harvesting or unethical activities relating to human tissue. Those are non-Government amendments, but I hope that the UK Government will commit to retaining these changes. It would be good to hear from the Minister on that as well.

As I said, procurement is devolved and although much of the Bill is relevant to Wales, the Welsh Government will develop its own Welsh procurement policy statement, which will be underpinned by legislation recently passed in the Senedd: the Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Bill. The aim of that legislation, with its emphasis on outcomes rather than regulation and inputs, is to ensure that the new Welsh procurement regime delivers social, environmental, economic and cultural results, including fair work.

Many years ago, I co-delivered a long sequence of training for charity workers and trustees on the then new Charities Act. As a freelance trainer, living on my wits in the private sector, I needed no persuasion to see the value of that training. In respect of this legislation, the training and development of procurement professionals to ensure that they have the necessary knowledge and understanding of the new regime will be key to successful delivery. Both Governments intend to produce materials to support the delivery of the new regimes. There may well be significant differences between England and Wales in respect of procurement, so I ask the Minister to ensure now that the UK Government are mindful of potential divergence when commissioning future training and information, not least in respect of Wales securing materials and the actual delivery of training in both Welsh and English when intended for use in Wales.

Returning to the Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Bill, my Plaid Cymru colleagues in the Senedd are pushing the Welsh Government to set out clear targets for the proportion of procurement spend spent in Wales and spent with specific types of suppliers, such as small and medium-sized enterprises or social enterprises—that point has been mentioned by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

In conclusion, I am pleased to report that this is already a priority for my Plaid Cymru-run local authority Cyngor Gwynedd, which spent 61% of its procurement budget last year locally.