Government to create national security unit for public procurement

Proposed legislation will allow government to ban companies of concern from bidding in sensitive sectors
The unit could close sensitive procurement doors to firms considered a national security risk. Photo: Jeffrey Blackler/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

09 Jun 2023

The government will set up a national security unit for public procurement to investigate suppliers who may pose a risk to national security and assess if they should be banned from bidding for government contracts.

The National Security Unit for Procurement,  which will be based in the Cabinet Office, will work across government, including liaising closely with UK intelligence agencies.

The creation of the team is one of several amendments to the Procurement Bill made this week ahead of the draft legislation reaching the report stage in parliament next week.

Another key change will allow government to ban firms deemed to pose a national security risk from bidding in sensitive sectors, while enabling them to win contracts in non-sensitive areas.

The government has also committed 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.

Minister for the Cabinet Office Jeremy Quin said the new measures ”will protect our sensitive sectors from companies which could threaten national security and are a firm deterrence to hostile actors who wish to do Britain harm”.

“This builds on the robust rules within the Procurement Bill to hold suppliers to account and ensure that the taxpayer is protected.”

Fellow Cabinet Office minister Alex Burghart added: “It’s absolutely right we continue to look at ways to strengthen central government rules when it comes to national security and I have no doubt these additional measures will ensure the Bill delivers on its objective to have a robust, modern procurement process which delivers for the British people.”

The National Security Unit for Procurement will respond swiftly to emerging threats, such as companies looking to win public contracts in order to gain access to sensitive information or sites which could be used to compromise government and society.

It will also proactively monitor the supplier landscape and make recommendations to ministers on which suppliers should be investigated for debarment, either from all contracts from certain areas only.

A firm could be prevented from bidding for certain types of goods, services or works, or in certain contracting authorities or locations, or a particular procurement, for example.

The Procurement Bill’s aims include creating new businesses, jobs and skills; improving supplier diversity, innovation and resilience; and tackling climate change and reducing waste.

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