In my statement to the Assembly on 15 December 2008, I announced that no construction project would be stopped due to the legal challenges about the use of framework agreements by the Central Procurement Directorate and the Department of Education. I announced that those projects, worth a total value of £115 million, which were scheduled to be delivered by framework agreements, would go to the marketplace on a project-by-project basis before the end of the financial year. Those projects include the South Eastern Regional College in Bangor, at £10 million, and 10 schools, ranging in value from just under £2 million to over £11 million, as is the case at Magherafelt High School.
The recently established construction industry forum procurement task group will focus on ensuring that all those projects move forward into the marketplace. In order that the construction industry can plan for the deal flow, Departments have, through the procurement task group, provided the construction industry group with a comprehensive list of all projects that are to be advertised before the end of the financial year, or are already at various stages of the procurement process.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Will all the projects scheduled to go forward in this financial year do so? If not, what will be the position around the finance that has already been allocated for those projects that might be delayed as a result of the problem around the frameworks process?
I thank the Member for his question. The projects that were to be delivered using frameworks are all at various stages of the procurement process, and no projects have been stopped due to the legal challenges. Departments have indicated that over 60 projects, with an aggregate value of around £400 million, are either to be advertised before the end of the financial year, or are already at various stages of the procurement process.
We have ensured that no projects will be stopped as a result of the framework challenges. Within the overall expenditure of £1·5 billion for the current year, it is not expected that a significant amount will be delayed or postponed. However, if some projects, for whatever other reasons, are subject to a delay, those will be carried forward into next year, and will be a matter for the Departments to manage.
I do not envisage that as a major problem in the context of expenditure of £1·5 billion. The measures that my Department announced in December 2008 will ensure that procurement of projects will not be held up significantly.
I am pleased to inform the House that during the past 12 months, all of the Central Procurement Directorate’s (CPD) construction-works contracts have been awarded to local construction firms. I have instructed CPD to provide a report on the position of all central procurement exercises. That is encouraging.
While I have the opportunity to do so, I must also congratulate local construction firms from Northern Ireland for having recently won contract work in Scotland, which is a tremendous boost to the local economy and workforce. That is testimony to the quality of the work of Northern Ireland’s construction firms.
Government clients are required to advertise publicly all construction procurement opportunities that are estimated to exceed £30,000 for construction work and £5,000 for construction-related services. Centres of procurement expertise recognise the importance of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to the economy and encourage consortia where appropriate. Those details should reassure the Member and the House.
I thank the Minister for expanding on how the issue is being dealt with locally. Given the fact that SMEs make up the largest sector of industry in Northern Ireland, will the Minister explain the arrangements that are in place to ensure that SMEs have the opportunity to bid for projects that are scheduled to go to the market before the end of the current financial year?
The Member has highlighted an issue that has been raised many times, and which I have taken firmly on board. As I have already indicated, all construction work that has been allocated by the Central Procurement Directorate during the past 12 months has gone to local construction firms.
I have already mentioned the requirement to advertise publicly all construction procurement opportunities. I must add that a Construction Industry Forum sustainability task group has developed proposals for promoting equality and sustainable development through sustainable procurement in construction. Those proposals, which, since December 2008, are included in all new public-sector construction contracts, require main contractors to publish opportunities in their supply chain on their websites or, where appropriate, in the local press.
In addition, the Construction Industry Forum procurement task group will consider how to further maximise the opportunities for small- and medium-sized enterprises to bid for and benefit from public-sector construction contracts.