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After the Minister of the Environment’s answers, I am tempted just to say, “Try to follow that”, but I will proceed with the answer to this question.
I visited the Olympic Park site last month to see at first hand the procurement opportunities available to Northern Ireland firms to bid for contracts associated with the London 2012 Olympic Games. Those games give our local companies a tremendous opportunity to bid for valuable contracts.
I met John Armitt, the chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), who confirmed that many opportunities are available from contractors that have already been appointed by the ODA and from its supply chains. I strongly urge all local firms, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises to bid for supply-chain contracts by using the CompeteFor web portal that was launched in Northern Ireland by Invest Northern Ireland.
In addition to bidding for contracts using the CompeteFor service, local companies can use the eSourcing NI tendering system that was launched by my Department’s Central Procurement Directorate. Three Northern Ireland companies have already won work with the ODA, which proves that local firms have the expertise and capability to challenge for and win work beyond Northern Ireland’s shores.
I am sure that the Minister agrees that opportunities, some of which he outlined, exist for businesses in Northern Ireland to benefit from any procurement that comes from the 2012 Olympics. Will he tell the House the extent to which Invest Northern Ireland has been involved in promoting procurement opportunities connected with the Olympics?
The CompeteFor web portal was launched by Invest NI, the trade division of which has carried out activities with local companies. In my former capacity as the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, I attended a conference in 2008 about work that was being done through Invest Northern Ireland to encourage local companies to investigate Olympics-related procurement opportunities.
Invest Northern Ireland also organised five seminars in October and November 2008 at which training was provided that enabled 96 companies to develop a professional tendering approach for 2012 contracts. I understand that 27 companies were taken to the Olympic Park to receive presentations from main contractors and supply-chain specialists. I know that Invest NI planned to launch a dedicated, Olympics-related page on its website.
Therefore, a lot of work is being done in relation to opportunities available through the Olympic project in London. It is important to ensure our local companies are given whatever support is available so that they can take advantage of that tremendous expenditure.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I thank the Minister for his answer. Will he inform the House whether indigenous businesses now enjoy more success because of the steps that he and other Ministers have introduced to open up the procurement process? Will he set out some of the details?
I presume that the Member’s question relates to the overall situation, not just the Olympic Games. As he will be aware, work has been done through the procurement task group, which was set up recently and has met regularly. I think that a report will come forward this week at the procurement board meeting. That very significant piece of work has been undertaken by Central Procurement Directorate and by representatives from industry and small and medium-sized enterprises. It has resulted in a great deal of consensus about how procurement should move forward. The Construction Employers Federation and representatives of industry and business have engaged positively in that work and are optimistic about its outcomes, and they confirmed that when I met them recently.
Since our announcement, in December 2008, about efforts to ensure that no money would be lost as a result of legal issues in relation to frameworks, we have been able to ensure that £400 million worth of contracts came to market without being held up in legal disputes.
As I have said to the House previously, it is important to note the measures to assist local firms to avail themselves of procurement opportunities, including the introduction of the electronic procurement portal, eSourcing NI, and other work. Over 95% of public-sector construction works in Northern Ireland are now awarded to local firms, the majority of which are small and medium-sized enterprises. Historically, that figure is about 60% in Scotland and about 50% in Wales. That is very positive news for small and medium-sized enterprises and for the construction industry in Northern Ireland.
Further to the Minister’s answer, does he agree that a huge opportunity was missed — in relation to legacy issues as well as the construction industry and the creation of jobs — by not going ahead with the multi-sports stadium at the Maze site? Will the Minister explain what direct benefit will come to Northern Ireland as a result of the Olympic Games in London?
I have already indicated the tremendous amount of significant work that has been done to provide local companies and firms with opportunities to bid for work in relation to the Olympic Games. As I mentioned, a number of companies have already won work. I hope that other companies will win more contracts as a result of that work.
The Member referred to one particular project. He should bear it in mind that, as part of the delivery of the investment strategy, 30% more was spent in the last financial year on helping and supporting the construction industry in Northern Ireland than was spent in the previous year. That is £1·6 million in gross expenditure. Despite the downturn, that is a very significant increase in the amount of activity in relation to capital expenditure in Northern Ireland. It provides much-needed support to large and small construction companies. That is a major improvement on the situation the year before.