Every year, the Scottish Government spend hundreds of millions of pounds with private contractors to deliver Government projects.
From bridges to IT systems, houses to gritters, our taxpayers’ cash is spent to deliver the things our country needs to keep on moving and growing.
But is that all we want from our hard-earned cash?
Surely when we’re such big spenders we can demand a little more for our money.
Like ensuring the big companies we fund pay their taxes and don’t exploit their staff?
It could be carrot and stick stuff – yes, make sure they meet current standards in being decent employers and businesses – but it’s also a great opportunity to push the boundaries a little and drive the cultural change that we want to see for the good of everyone in society.
Do they provide decent childcare for their staff, do they pay their sub-contractors on time, are they hiring young apprentices, what are they doing to diversify their workforce?
All things which make for good business in their own right.
The possibilities are immense and obviously need to be checked against putting too many unrealistic demands on businesses.
Get the balance right though and you can find the sweet spot which allows businesses to grow and for that growth to benefit the widest possible range of people.
It’s this belief in driving good business that led Labour to try and amend the Procurement Bill in Parliament to include many of these requirements a few years ago.
That was the Bill that regulated how public cash was spent with private companies – how goods are “procured”.
The SNP rejected many of these amendments and faced a lot of hostility from unions and other organisations as a consequence.
Having had their fingers burned a little, the SNP cooked up a new plan to promote good business practices and announced it with great fanfare two years ago. It was called the Scottish Business Pledge.
When news of Carillion’s decline broke, our first thoughts were about all those jobs on the line.
The second thought was about all the projects that could be jeopardised or delayed.
It’s only now that we’re starting to understand the full impact on all the pipeline companies who were subcontracted.
They’ll be the last ones to get paid, even if their products and their labour has already been spent.
This made me wonder about how good a job the SNP had done of using their own buying power to deliver their own business pledge.
So I started to ask questions in Parliament. Turns out just a paltry 64 private companies in receipt of our cash have signed the pledge.
Carillion aren’t one of them.
Neither are Interserve or Capita – two other companies with our cash who are rumoured to be in poor financial fettle, although there is no cause for alarm at this stage.
Sixty-four companies. Just 15 per cent of the companies the Government deal with regularly have signed their own good business pledge.
If the SNP Government can’t use their own political weight and buying power to convince companies to sign up, why would anyone else change their ways?
This column first appeared in the Daily Record newspaper on the 6th of February 2018.