In evidence from Welsh Assembly Finance Minister Jane Hutt AM, the Scottish Affairs Committee heard that it is only a lack of devolved powers in Wales that is preventing the Welsh Government from legislating to make its new code of practice for public procurement - that would ban blacklisters from public contracts - mandatory and enforceable.
The Committee heard formal evidence on blacklisting from the Minister, and held a series of informal meetings on blacklisting and the bedroom tax among other issues, in the Welsh Assembly committee rooms.
The Minister indicated that the Welsh Assembly had picked up the issue after the Committee opened its inquiry into blacklisting, and has developed a policy advice note on “ethical public procurement” - which has been shortlisted for a Liberty Human Rights Award - to guide the public procurement process. The Minister Jane Hutt MP said she wanted to “eradicate blacklisting in the construction industry” and the policy guidance was developed to ensure that the public sector can deliver on this.
Public procurement law is complicated by the requirements of EU legislation, and power over public procurement policy is not devolved to the Welsh Assembly, but the Committee were impressed that the Welsh Government appears to be doing everything it can within its existing powers.
The Welsh Government has developed a new Public Procurement Questionnaire for applicants attempting to qualify as a supplier on the database of contractors who are allowed to tender for public procurement projects, and has made the first question on the questionnaire about blacklisting. The intention is that firms who are found to be blacklisting, or found to have provided false information about it, would be excluded from the list of potential tenderers for lucrative public contracts.
However, the Welsh Government does not yet have the powers to legislate to create enforceable procurement rules and impose sanctions. The Minister indicated that they would use sanctions that are within their powers, such as "naming and shaming" blacklisters, or using a series of “self-cleansing” measures to effectively rehabilitate companies with a poor record on blacklisting, that would include companies taking active measures to demonstrably “clean house”, and signing up and contributing to the compensation fund for blacklisting victims.
The Minister echoed Committee calls for the more to be done to identify the victims of blacklisting, most of whom still have no idea they were on these lists, with a view to enabling them to join those who are currently seeking compensation. It is important to identify the true scale of the problem so that a proper compensation policy - and a sufficient fund from the companies involved - can be developed going forward, based partly on the outcomes of the initial court cases now in process.
Ian Davidson MP, Chair of the Committee, said:
"We were very pleased to hear how closely the Welsh Assembly has followed our inquiry and how seriously they have taken the issues raised so far. They appear to have a highly developed position on this and are doing everything they can within their existing powers: the question of what more they might be enabled to do is something we will consider.
We are very grateful to the Welsh Assembly for the warm welcome they gave us, including providing facilities for a press conference in the Welsh Assembly buildings. We look forward to co-operating with them further in our ongoing inquiry."