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We will protect national security through a strengthened procurement regime

Opinion article originally published in the Times Red Box on Wednesday 7 June 2023.

Protecting the nation’s security has always been government’s primary responsibility. In an increasingly interconnected world, defending the realm goes well beyond the “front line”. It means using every lever of government to further our nation’s security and protect us from ever increasing threats.

We know that states across the world increasingly are using the tools at their disposal to project their influence and potentially threaten our security. These hybrid threats include using economic channels to attempt to undermine and compromise our government and society.

So we have to act. Today we are strengthening the Procurement Bill, which will have its report stage in parliament next week, with changes in three areas.

First, to ensure that we are alive to potential national security risks which some suppliers may pose, we are establishing a National Security Unit for Procurement. This new team, based in the Cabinet Office, will investigate suppliers who may pose a risk to national security, and assess whether companies should be barred from public procurements.

The specialist team will work across government, ensuring we use our resources to protect our citizens, and helping those responsible for public procurement avoid signing contracts with bad actors.

Second, we will introduce new powers to ban certain suppliers from specific sectors. This means that we can adopt a precautionary approach, banning companies which may pose a risk to sensitive areas of government, for example GCHQ.

Finally, we are committing to publish a timeline for the removal of surveillance equipment produced by companies subject to China’s National Intelligence Law from sensitive central government sites. We have already taken firm action in this area. Last year we halted the installation of such equipment on sensitive government sites and asked departments to consider their removal. By publicly committing to this timeline, we are providing reassurance and urgency around the removal plans.

These measures show the proactive approach that we are taking in ensuring that companies cannot threaten our national security through procurement.

But the Procurement Bill is about so much more than protecting national security, it constitutes a major piece of legislation that will repeal an array of EU rules. The Bill will deliver better value for money for the taxpayer, through slashing red tape, boosting growth and driving innovation.

The new rules will support smaller businesses by making it easier to win public contracts. For example, for the first time we are legislating to ensure that contracting authorities must help SMEs overcome the barriers they face when trying to win public contracts.

It will create a more transparent procurement system, with clearer and faster competition processes for emergency buying.

So we believe the Procurement Bill, which we call on all sides of the house to back, will deliver for Britain, protecting our security, growing our economy and helping small businesses.

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