How can we better use our buying power to grow our economy

I was visiting my parents over the Christmas holidays and drove past a Kia Cee’d police car. Nothing outrageous there you say. The Cee’d is apparently a fine car, but so is the Vauxhall Astra. The difference is that the Astra is built in a large, repeatedly threatened with closure, factory about 10 miles up the road from where my parents live.

The Cee’d on the other hand is built in a Czech plant owned by a Korean company. I understand why public bodies follow EU procurement rules and buy stuff based on most ‘economically advantageous’ tender as they are the rules. However is now not the time to have a bit of a rethink about what economically advantageous actually means at a system wide level.

Buying imported police cars doesn’t really tick any environmental boxes, neither does it re-invest tax pounds in the local / UK economy. The procurement purists will tell me how UK companies benefit in Europe so what goes around comes around. However you never see Gendarmes in Vauxhalls; others seem to play the game with a better grasp of the local impact of decisions.

Maybe we play the procurement game too straight here. I am not advocating chaos, but I am suggesting we add criteria in our procurement thinking which takes some account of how we can use our tax take more effectively to grow our economy. How about asking suppliers to tell us how much of the money we will pay them is being spent in the UK, then within, say, 20 miles of where the goods or services are to be used? If the price is within 10% of the cheapest then we reserve the right to go local. This will immediately incentivise a wash back into the supply chain, and would lead to growth in the SME sector locally.

However ultimately this is about recognising that building our economy is hand to hand combat, and of course taking some risks – every decision must count and add value to the local growth agenda, because if we don’t, we have to deal with the very real system wide social consequences of more job losses.

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About iansthoughts

Chief Operating Officer at DEFRA, and former council Chief Executive. All views expressed are my own and not formal policy of my employers current or past.
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