Procurement Task Group

Finance And Personnel – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:30 pm on 23rd February 2009.

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Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP 3:30 pm, 23rd February 2009

1. asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel for an update on the work of the Procurement Task Group.            (AQO 2146/09)

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform), Without portfolio, Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Without Portfolio)

I announced the establishment of the construction industry forum procurement task group in my statement to the Assembly on 15 December 2008. The group held its inaugural meeting on 17 December 2008. It has met on three further occasions, and it will continue to meet at two-weekly intervals until the end of March 2009.

A key role of the task group is to monitor and report progress on projects that are scheduled to go to the marketplace this financial year. Departments have indicated that more than 60 projects, with an aggregated value in excess of £400 million, are to be advertised before the end of this financial year or are already at various stages in the procurement process.

In addition, Roads Service has already commenced procurement of the new A5 western transport corridor, which runs from Aughnacloy to Londonderry, and which has an estimated contract value of £600 million. As an interim measure, ahead of the formal launch of the investment strategy website, the Central Procurement Directorate (CPD) has, on behalf of Departments, provided the construction industry representatives at the task group with a significant amount of information on project progress.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

How will the construction industry be kept up to date on the progress made in rolling out those projects that are scheduled to come onto the market before the end of this financial year and in forthcoming financial years?

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform), Without portfolio, Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Without Portfolio)

The Member raises an important point. Part of the thinking behind the establishment of the procurement task group was to ensure close liaison between Government and the construction industry in the private sector. The construction industry forum is recognised as the appropriate and established forum for the industry to discuss with Departments and Government the roll-out of investment strategy projects. The Strategic Investment Board (SIB) and the Central Procurement Directorate have established a delivery-tracking system for major investment strategy projects.

It is also intended that the investment strategy website, which will be launched, will be of great benefit to the construction industry. Ahead of the launch of that website, as an interim measure, Departments have, through the CPD, provided the construction industry with a significant amount of information about projects that are scheduled to go to the marketplace this financial year.

Photo of Paul Maskey Paul Maskey Sinn Féin

Can the Minister tell us how the procurement task group will promote and access good social impacts when contracts and work are undertaken in communities, especially those in social need? Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform), Without portfolio, Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Without Portfolio)

I thank the Member for his question: the issue has been raised on a number of occasions. As I have said, the task group has had a number of meetings already and will meet fortnightly. Its terms of reference, or principles, include not only delivering best value for money, taking account of the needs of the local construction industry and keeping bidding cost low, but delivering sustainable development. It is important that that is taken into account with respect to the issues the Member has raised. The task group will take account of it in its deliberations.

As I have said to the House on several occasions, it is essential that we ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises — which are the vast majority of Northern Ireland businesses — have the opportunity to bid for projects and can compete properly for investment from the investment strategy.

Photo of Samuel Gardiner Samuel Gardiner UUP

Has the Minister made any progress on making Government contracts more accessible to smaller local companies? When does he envisage acting on that?

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform), Without portfolio, Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Without Portfolio)

As I said to the House previously, the vast majority of projects — indeed all of them if they are categorised as being accessible to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) — are already going to small and medium-sized enterprises, because the vast majority of companies in Northern Ireland fall within that category. I assure the Member that that is happening now; we must ensure that it continues.

Government clients are required to publicly advertise all construction procurement opportunities estimated to exceed £30,000 for construction works, and £5,000 for construction related services. As I explained to the House before, centres of procurement expertise encourage SMEs to join together as consortia and bid for contracts, or look for opportunities within the supply chains that will be formed by a successful tenderer. The task group is developing proposals for promoting equality and sustainable development through sustainable procurement in construction. All that should reassure the Member that the issue he raised is being very strongly addressed as a result of the work that we are carrying out.

Photo of Dominic Bradley Dominic Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as a fhreagra. I thank the Minister for his answer. Given that processes have been put in place to improve the procurement procedure and ensure good practice, will he tell me why there are such long delays in the procurement of major projects in the education and health sectors?

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform), Without portfolio, Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Without Portfolio)

We are keen to ensure that the process of working through procurement is speeded up as quickly as possible. That is why I announced in my statement to the Assembly in December in relation to the Department of Education and some of the legal challenges to the frameworks that those projects would be taken forward outside the framework; in other words, that there would not be a delay to that. People want to see capital investment speeded up, and the decision to work outside the framework was deliberately and specifically made to ensure that there would not be any delay, or any further delay, to those projects getting started and to work being done under them.

The total value of that work, following the removal of the framework and proceeding on a project-by-project basis through normal procurement methods, will be approximately £115 million this year. Between December and March, a further £400 million will be taken forward into the marketplace through procurement projects. That brings the total investment — whether it be in education, health, roads, housing, and so on — to over £1·3 billion or £1·4 billion net this year; a considerable advance and increase on the previous year, and on previous years under direct rule.