Headlines: October 18th, 2007

Britain’s largest trade union, Unite, says much of the 42 billion pounds spent by the Government and local authorities on manufacturing contracts each year is going to overseas companies. The union says those contracts account for about a third of the total procurement spend and if the money was spent here it could secure more than half a million British jobs.

It wants the procurement process to include an assessment of the impact of decisions on UK industry and jobs and says this would have a significant impact on the automotive, textiles and train building firms all of which have seen serious decline. Unite says the Government’s own figures show that the majority of contracts are awarded abroad. It points to the fact that almost three quarters of fire, ambulance and police vehicles procured in the UK are produced overseas and in fact only 8 per cent of ambulances are made here. Seven out of ten trains bought since 1994 have come from abroad and only the Bombardier train making plant in Crewe is still operating. On textile and clothing contracts it points out that those industries still employ over 160,000 people in Britain but that number has fallen by more than half in the last decade. The union says other European countries use public sector contracts to support their own producers. “Our message to the government is clear. We have a first rate manufacturing sector and first rate skills – imagine what it could do if it was supported by an intelligent procurement strategy that favours British business,” Derek Simpson, the Joint General Secretary of Unite, said.

He accused the Government of applying a narrow definition of procurement that failed to take account of the benefits of giving key contracts to British firms.