Cabinet Office Minister Alex Burghart's speech at Procurex 2024

Cabinet Office Minister Alex Burghart's speech at Procurex National 2024, a leading public sector procurement event, on the benefits of the Procurement Act

 Alex Burghart MP

Hello everyone, it’s a real pleasure to be here with you all in Liverpool this morning.

When I was preparing for this, I asked what this conference was like and one of my colleagues said that it was like the Glastonbury of public procurement.

This raised a few questions in my mind - not least, does that make me the Michael Eavis of public procurement?

I’ve been doing this job for about 18 months and during that time, I’ve come to see that in government, procurement is almost everything. 

It’s a whole way of being in government. 

Government as a customer is something that sits right at the core of what we do, how we transmit our values, and how we serve the people who employ us. 

This year, as you all know, is an enormous year for public procurement, and it’s been a real honour and a pleasure to be part of the process which has led to 2024.

I’ve had a brief chance to look at the breadth of stalls out there, and to see just a glimpse of the experience of the buying and supplying expertise that we have around us today. 

I want to thank you all for your ingenuity and bringing that skill and experience to Liverpool, and for being a vital part of our economy. 

As the only person I think today speaking on behalf of the Government, I am focused on the value that all these stalls are getting for taxpayers.

I am also ultimately responsible for the smooth running of the current process and the new process - everything from the services that we end up procuring to, perhaps more importantly, the system that we procure them from.

That structure has to be as rigorous, as efficient and as innovative as possible and it needs to have enough flexibility to ensure that future improvements can be incorporated.

What I want to talk to you about today is how we’re turning that ideal into a reality and how we are ensuring that providers and the public are better supported through procurement.

Eighteen months ago when I took on this job, I asked the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister what my core priority was going to be.

And they both said: get the Procurement Act through Parliament, get the regulations through, get trading through, get the online system working and make it live by the end of 2024.

And because of the fantastic team that I’ve had at my disposal in the Cabinet Office - not least Lindsay who you have just heard from, but Ed Green and Sam Rowbury - we are closer to that goal than ever before.

Because for the first time in four decades, leaving the European Union we had a chance to create our own procurement practices. 

To go out and be able to talk to industry, to talk to the procurement sector, to really get a grip on what opportunities we could now grasp, was an enormous job. 

And they have done it all with flair and insight, and critically, on time.

So what we’re looking at is an opportunity now to take advantage of this reimagined procurement system, to benefit everyone who has been involved in the process. 

What we have now, I’m confident, is a simpler and more transparent system that is going to deliver better value for money, and reduce costs for business and the public sector.

And the beauty of the Act is in its simplicity. When it comes into force, we will experience a whole new approach to procurement.

We will be better able to open up public procurement to new entrants - crucially, to small businesses and social enterprises - who have been central to our thinking throughout this journey, and I believe it is only fair that they can compete for and win more public contracts.

We are also going to take better action against underperforming suppliers, as well as excluding those who pose unacceptable risks.

And at the heart of this is ensuring more transparency than ever before, so that we’re spending taxpayers’ money in a way that can be properly scrutinised.

Now, as all you know, our go-live date is the 28th of October.

I know that many of the procurement practitioners in the audience are very aware of that date, and I would like to thank you all for your help in developing this Act so far. 

After all, it’s you who will make a success of the new regime when we go live in October, making your organisations take advantage of the new flexibilities and continuing to deliver great value for the taxpayer.

Many of you have already started this process, and I was very, very pleased to hear that since launching our online e-learning programme only a few weeks ago, over 1,000 practitioners have already completed the course and are now certified.

It’s an amazing achievement. Some people have clearly waited around at midnight for the moment that it went by, immediately started the course and ploughed through the hours and got their qualification. That’s the sort of enthusiasm that is wonderful to see. 

Over the next few months we’ll be supporting you even more - both practitioners and suppliers - to prepare for the changes ahead.

I’m very pleased to see today Roger and the Crown Commercial Service team, who are here with information, guidance and advice to help you through this legislative transition, so please do seek them out if you haven’t already.

I would also like to focus briefly on how the new Act supports suppliers.

Suppliers - thank you so much for coming here today.  

It is great to be able to see so many of you taking advantage of this conference to learn more about what we’re up to.

And it’s a good opportunity for us to see here the types of innovative services and products on display. 

It’s this vibrancy – this open market – that we are keen to support through our new legislation, because we believe that our public services should reflect the public they serve, and ensure that our public – and the wider economy – benefits from this change.

Our previous legislation did not have this as a priority.

For example, the system was almost geared against SMEs, which was a huge oversight given that about 99% of businesses in the UK are SMEs.

It also required companies to re-enter the same basic information every time they wanted to bid for a contract - a huge waste of time, a huge inefficiency. 

These issues – among many others – are addressed directly by our new legislation.

The new Act will accelerate spending with small businesses.

A new duty will require any contracting authority to consider SMEs, to take account of their unique challenges, and we have introduced 30-day payment terms on a broader range of contracts, in response to what SMEs asked us to do.

We’re also creating a new central digital platform for suppliers to register and store their details, so that they can be used for multiple bids, and enable them to see all the opportunities in one place.

But, really, the Act has benefits for all suppliers, not just SMEs.

It puts a requirement on public bodies to provide feedback on bids, giving you greater consistency of feedback, helping you shape your next bid.

And it will open up more opportunities for suppliers to become ‘approved’, meaning you can be considered for more contracts in the future.

Now our prime concern is the quality of public services and ensuring that taxpayers’ money is being spent efficiently.

Under the old regime, it was easy – once a supplier became approved – for them to coast, to provide the minimum, safe in the knowledge they could not be shifted off that approved supplier status.

But thanks to the Procurement Act, this is going to change.

We’ll be taking tougher action on underperforming suppliers, as new exclusion guidelines will make it easier to write-off suppliers who have underperformed on other contracts.

We are making value for money a core part of our process - ensuring that all contracting authorities must place value for money at the forefront of all procurement activities.

We are also taking account of the Government’s strategic policy priorities, ensuring they help create resilient businesses and - as a society - create opportunities for employment and more skills development.

But, perhaps most importantly, we are also going to create a register, accessible to all public sector organisations, that will list suppliers who must - or may - be excluded from contracts.

Importantly, the Act acknowledges the more complex, interconnected world we live in, where rogue states sometimes seek to gain access to public services and public information.

A new National Security Unit for procurement in the Cabinet Office will review suppliers for potential risk to our national security in a way never achieved before.

It will also conduct investigations and make debarment recommendations to Ministers alongside the Procurement Review Unit, which will do the same for other exclusion grounds.

In closing, I want to reiterate just how important today’s conference is for everyone involved in procurement.

From suppliers to authorities, today is an extraordinary opportunity to find out what we can all do better, to innovate, and how we can help deliver better public services.

In the run up to October, I’d love to know how all these changes are affecting you. 

I’d like to know what’s working well and I’d also like to know, in this new system, where the new challenges lie.

This has to be an iterative process. We have to use this as an opportunity not just to create a better system for today, but also how we continue to improve that system in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.

Thank you for all you’re doing. Thank you for your commitment to public procurement, and have a great day.

From: Cabinet Office, Crown Commercial Service and Alex Burghart MP