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Workplace 2010

Finance and personnel – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:45 pm on 26th November 2007.

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Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton DUP 3:45 pm, 26th November 2007

7. asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel to make a statement on the implications for Workplace 2010 of the delay in moving to best and final offer.     (AQO 898/08)

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

The judge issued a ruling on the court injunction last Friday afternoon. The Department is considering the implications of the judgement in consultation with the two remaining bidders. I can tell the Member that the Department is now in a position to invite bids. However, that is only one part of the process, as there is a further court case outstanding, which is not due to start until January.

If the procurement continues to be delayed, there will be serious implications for capital projects that rely on the funding that it will generate. The severity of the impact will depend on the extent of the delay.

As I have said before, Workplace 2010 will generate a substantial capital payment that will enable the funding of other capital projects. The receipt of that payment is planned for 2008-09, so any delay into later financial years will be a significantly limiting factor in delivering the early parts of the investment strategy, and we may have to reassess our priorities for funding.

On the operational side, the Civil Service estate continues to deteriorate. Without capital invest­ment from the private sector, we cannot implement plans to refurbish and upgrade properties in the estate.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton DUP

I thank the Minister for his answer. The fact that some judgments have been made is good news as regards being able to proceed with the projects. The Minister indicated that there will possibly be capital-receipt ramifications because of the delays caused. Will he indicate what those ramifications might be?

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

The figure in the draft investment strategy and draft Budget for Workplace 2010 — although it could not be a precise figure — was £200 million. Therefore, if that amount is not going to be available during the 2008-09 financial year, the gap will have to be plugged, timetables will have to change or other programmes will have to be reduced. Those are the kind of issues that will have to be considered should Workplace 2010 not proceed during that financial year.

I do not want to depress the honourable gentleman. It is still possible to meet that schedule, and I hope that the court decisions will continue to go in the right direction.

Photo of Pat Ramsey Pat Ramsey Social Democratic and Labour Party

Further to the Minister’s reply, and acknowledging that there may be further legal delays, will he commit to making progress on the relocation of public-sector jobs? Given the devastation there has been as a result of job losses, particularly in the north-west, the decentralisation of public-sector jobs would create a lot of confidence.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

I have taken forward Workplace 2010 and the displacement of public-sector jobs in parallel. I have not put the brake on the latter because of the legal issues involved in Workplace 2010.

The Executive, at their most recent meeting, approved a proposal that I submitted regarding the terms of reference of the inquiries that are going to take place on the matter, and that work will proceed. I am content for proposals to come to me in advance of the legal issues being resolved.

As I understand it, there is to be a commercial court hearing in early January 2008. I am not in a position to ascertain how long it may take before a judgement will result from that. The worst judgement would be one that would take us back to the best and final offer stage. Clearly, we want to make real progress.

The two bidders still being considered by the Department are being acquainted with the position. I had a brief meeting with both of them, and my officials are talking to them in more detail about how we might proceed in light of the fact that the injunction has, to that extent, been lifted.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Minister referred to a substantial capital sum. I believe that it was £200 million, which then changed to £175 million. Will he advise how that cash-back sum was determined? Furthermore, what interest repayment rate can be expected on it, in comparison with borrowing it through conventional means or through the reinvestment and reform initiative, which would have been linked to the Bank of England base rate?

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

The figure will be determined by those who have knowledge of the bids that have already been received, as those bids will indicate the amount of cash that the various bidders are prepared to give regarding the tender.

As Minister, I determined at the very beginning of this process that I did not want to be involved in the bidding process; that was to be left to officials, and they would make their recommendations to me. I felt that that was the right thing to do. Therefore, their judgement, on the basis of their discussions and the tenders that they have received, was that a figure in that range was appropriate.

Needless to say, I hope, as I am sure that the Member does, that when we get to the best and final offer the two bidders sharpen their pencils further and we get a better deal out of it. We are talking about funds coming from the private sector to the public sector for us to use. Thus, the second part of the Member’s question requires no answer.