The contract for Steps to Work in the Foyle contract area has not been awarded. The procurement process is ongoing. All tenders for the Steps to Work programme were assessed against the criteria of methodology, relevant experience and capacity to deliver, and broken into sub-criteria.
: The Member must bear in mind that the process is ongoing and, while that is the case, I must be careful about what I say. The procurement process has not been concluded in two remaining areas. New bids have been received for the Foyle area and those will be assessed shortly, and further information has been received for the north-west. However, the process is ongoing in the Foyle area, and I am unable to say anything further.
I understand the constraints that the Minister has referred to. However, on the wider aspect of the Steps to Work programme, the Minister must be aware that many people believe that the Central Procurement Directorate appears to be acting to some sort of imperative to ensure that outside players are successfully brought into the market. Rightly or wrongly, that is the impression that people have.
How far are the decisions on methodology, relevant experience and capacity to deliver taken by his Department, and how far are they taken by the Central Procurement Directorate, which may have little experience in that area?
: I understand through correspondence and other contacts that the Member has a keen interest in the matter. The Central Procurement Directorate is not attempting to ensure that outside people are brought in. Having agreed the terms of reference for the contracts with my Department, the Central Procurement Directorate must implement those terms of reference and assess the bids that have been made. If that results in someone who is not based here being awarded a contract, that is within European Union rules and regulations. There is no predisposition to ensure that someone from outside is awarded a contract, any more than there is a predisposition to award a contract to a local firm. If the process is to be fair and open, it must be based on objective criteria, which is why we hand over the process to the Central Procurement Directorate (CPD), which has the expertise to deal with the situation.
The Department’s role is, primarily, to set out what is required. As a former Minister of Finance and Personnel, the Member knows that the CPD’s role is to ensure that proper and due process is followed correctly.