South Ayrshire Council leader Martin Dowey has asked for more to be done to get smaller local businesses involved in securing council contracts.

Councillor Dowey raised the matter at cabinet during a discussion on the council’s broader procurement work.

Cabinet heard that almost a third of contracts go to local businesses and is on the increase.

Cllr Dowey asked procurement officer David Alexander about the focus on encouraging local business to apply for council contracts.

He said: “It is always said you should shop local. We know that there are a lot of bigger local businesses who do projects for us, but we are trying to get [smaller] local businesses involved in this.

“We need to make it easier for them, especially in the more rural areas.

“We can have a small building firm who might be able to do two or three houses for us. I know some of bigger contractors do sub-contract that out.

“If there is any way we can target local businesses. I know it has been done in the past, so I’m not telling how to suck eggs.

“We have to try to push that. It is especially important, with the economy the way it is, that we focus on local businesses.”

Mr Alexander responded: “We are actively training local businesses that perhaps haven’t applied for any council tenders in the past.

“For larger projects there have been clauses inserted to include local bus wherever they can when subcontracting out.

“Local spend has increased this year. It is at 29 percent, which was up from 26 percent the previous year. We want to maintain and improve on that going forward.”

Independent councillor Alec Clark asked whether previous systems that allowed smaller businesses to apply were still in place.

He said: “It is absolutely important that we do support local medium and small businesses. We used to have open days where local businesses could be invited in to see what the processes are.

Mr Alexander responded that the system was still in place, but that guidance had been amended to increase the level of local business involvement.

He added that they were part of joint open days, working with the other two Ayrshire councils as well as Police Scotland and the NHS.

Cllr Dowey suggested that it would be useful for councillors to attend such open days, in order to get feedback from businesses about any issues.

He added: “They might tell us what they perceive are problems. Some of these are probably just perceived problems, not a real problem.”