When considering the major challenges we face as a country and the solutions we must offer to them, public procurement might not be the first thought that comes to peoples’ minds.

But the truth of the matter is that how and where we spend public money can have a huge impact on our communities and on people’s lives.

In fact, a third of all government spending goes on procurement. That’s more than the NHS and double the education budget. The difference this can make is huge.

This money, if spent wisely, can support British business and enterprise, pump skills and resources into our communities and town centres, and support the return of local jobs. It’s vital for Britain’s future that we get this right.

That’s why at the last Labour Party Conference, I set out our plan to spend every penny of public money for the good of the nation, ensuring that Britain works for working people, and properly investing in our local communities.

The Government have fallen far short of this standard. Procurement has been used to serve vested interests, not the national interest.

Their Procurement Bill is a stark example of this where we see a charter for cronies which looks to entrench the damage already done by the VIP lanes for PPE contracts, or money handed over to companies with links to tax havens.

The legislation could legalise these dodgy practices, and we risk seeing an increase on the incredible £3.7bn of taxpayers’ money that has already gone to friends and donors of the Conservative Party since the start of the pandemic.

That isn’t good enough. It’s why working, alongside the Co-operative Party, I’m seeking to ensure we properly unleash the power of procurement to support the public, get the best value for money, and drive-up standards.

To do this, we’ve pushed to strengthen the Bill in a number of ways.

We are forcing votes to legally embed social value in the Government’s procurement spending, ensuring standards on issues such promoting the public good, workers conditions and rights, tax transparency, non-discrimination, integrity, environmental standards, and local investment are met. It’s not good enough that your taxpayer money can end up too often being stashed away by multi-national corporations based in tax havens, or benefiting companies that underpay or mistreat their staff.

Of course, the co-operative movement knows that co-operatives are at the forefront of these efforts to offer an alternative, ethical approach to business that is rooted in community and the common good.

When it comes to entrenching social value in our economy, this isn’t something co-operatives merely strive towards: it’s fundamental to their very nature.

The benefits co-operatives can bring is why we’ve also sought to amend the Procurement Bill to do more to support the growth of the sector, by pushing the Government to do more in breaking down barriers to co-operative inclusion in procurement awards, and make sure that at the very least co-operative businesses are considered on level terms alongside other business forms by contracting authorities.

The contribution of the co-operative sector is integral to Labour’s plan for the future of our country – it’s why, working with the Co-operative Party, we’ve committed to doubling the size of the co-operative sector.

As we continue working towards that plan of a fairer, greener economy, procurement spending is a critical aspect of how we will get there. Within this, I’ll continue to make the case for a different way of doing things; a way that puts the public first, makes Britain work for working people, and sees investment in our communities, with every penny of public money spent for the good of this endeavour.

This article featured in the Spring/Summer 2023 addition of the Co-operative Party’s member magazine, the Pioneer.