Since the announcement of the new procurement policy on 27 May 2001, the procurement board has met and agreed its terms of reference and approved the establishment of a procurement practitioners’ group, which will assist the development of policy. It has also approved a work plan for the central procurement directorate for the period up to March 2003. The next meeting of the board is scheduled for early December, at which a plan for implementing all recommendations of the procurement review team will be tabled for discussion.
I acknowledge this bold and imaginative initiative by the Minister — an effort to ensure that public procurement becomes a mechanism to address long-term unemployment and disadvantage. However, the Minister will be aware that there were only four proposals for pilot schemes to the public procurement board two weeks ago, despite the fact that 20 were hoped for. Can the Minister reassure the Assembly that permanent secretaries will redouble their efforts to ensure that contracts of sufficient volume, value and impact are identified and forwarded to the public procurement board for consideration as a pilot scheme?
This is an important issue, and the idea of working through a series of pilot schemes is central to achieving the social dimension to procurement policy — helping the long-term unemployed in particular. As suggested by the procurement review team, Departments have initially been asked to submit capital work projects with a value above the European Union tendering threshold of £3·8 million, or service projects with a value above £500,000. Some Departments have stated that they have no such projects available in the current financial year, and so far only five projects have been identified for inclusion in the scheme. My officials are working closely with all Departments to ensure that we achieve our target of 20 projects.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. The Minister for Regional Development, in a written reply to Mr Attwood, appears to be quite sceptical, if not openly hostile, to the idea of using procurement policy for some of the benefits that the Minister has outlined. What authority will the Minister or the procurement team have in this regard, given that the Department for Regional Development is a huge spender and is heavily involved in public procurement?
Views differ on this issue, but it is clearly set down and endorsed by the Executive that procurement policy should have this clear social dimension. I will be working with my officials and ministerial Colleagues to ensure that this objective is achieved across all Departments. I am conscious of the considerable scale of expenditure for which the Minister for Regional Development is responsible.