§ The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. John Cope)
The Government are committed to improving value for money in purchasing and small firms have an important part to play in achieving this. I therefore discussed with ministerial colleagues ways to increase their Department's purchasing from small firms. Departments that are large purchasers now publish booklets designed to help small firms become suppliers to the Government and, in collaboration with the central unit on purchasing, we shall shortly be publishing further guidance for officials on small firm purchasing.
§ Mr. Cope
I am satisfied that both Government and small firms benefit from the initiative. It is all about value for money. All Government Departments are playing a part to some extent, but the purchasers which play a particularly big part include the Ministry of Defence, the National Health Service, the Crown Suppliers, HMSO and the PSA as well as others and ourselves.
§ Mr. Cryer
While wishing purchases to be made from small firms, may I ask the Minister to tell us whether a small firm is defined as one with under 200 employees, as a result of the Bolton committee report, or whether it depends on the EEC definition, which is that a small firm contains under 500 employees? Has this initiative been cleared with the Commission because, with the advent of 1992, will not preferential treatment to United Kingdom small firms be in breach of the treaty of Rome competition rules? Are we at last to take an initiative that is independent of the EEC?
§ Mr. Cope
No, we do not give small firms favoured treatment in the sense of giving them contracts that we would otherwise give to large firms, except where they give us value for money. In that respect, the EEC has nothing 154 to do with it and we can act entirely independently. For statistical purposes we use the Bolton committee definition. Given his experience in these matters, the hon. Gentleman will know that that is 200 employees in manufacturing firms and that various criteria are used for other types of firms.