4. asked the Minister of the Environment to outline (a) how many contracts, to what value, and in what departmental areas, have been forwarded to the public procurement board for consideration and inclusion in the pilot studies for procurement policy; (b) what measures are being undertaken to assess each departmental contract for inclusion in the pilot studies; and to make a statement.
Further to the procurement board’s decision on 3 July 2002 to undertake a pilot study on the use of public procurement contracts to help the unemployed back to work, my Department examined all contracts to be advertised over the next six to nine months. A service contract in the Environment and Heritage Service has been identified as meeting the criteria set out in the pilot study by the procurement board.
The contract is for the recruitment of tour guides to work at various locations throughout Northern Ireland. It is valued at £300,000 and involves the recruitment of permanent and temporary staff. The start date for the contract is expected to be November this year. The relevant details will be passed to the public procurement board later this week.
I acknowledge that the Department of the Environment is one of only four Departments that have forwarded possible contracts to the public procurement board. The Minister’s answer is helpful, but it is hardly reassuring that, despite the efforts of his Department, only one contract at a total value of £300,000 has been identified as suitable for inclusion in the pilot scheme. Given that 20 such schemes are proposed under the policy, is the Minister satisfied that there are not other areas in the Department of the Environment where contracts of greater worth might be identified for inclusion in the scheme?
I thank Mr Attwood for recognising that the Department of the Environment is one of only four Departments to submit projects. However, I remind him that there is a financial limitation on contracts. In the construction industry the contracts must be worth between £1 million and £3·86 million, and for projects in the service industry the contracts must be worth between £250,000 and £500,000. That is not an inconsequential amount of money, particularly given that the Department of the Environment is primarily a regulatory body and that, as such, its expenditure is dominated by staff costs and support to counsel. I also remind Mr Attwood that the Department of the Environment’s budget amounts to about £118 million a year. Given the magnitude of those figures and that my Department is one of the four Departments to respond, Mr Attwood should say " Well done" and stop at that.