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My Department is strongly committed to corporate social responsibility and has articulated how it aims to develop that in its corporate and business plans for 2009-2011. We are also very keen to support our staff to make a personal contribution to the community. One of the ways in which we hope to achieve that is through a partnership with Business in the Community, which would allow us to participate in schemes such as the Talent Management programme and the Time to Read initiative.
Members will also be aware of the recent Between the Bridges community-based charity event, which my Department played a role in facilitating through its corporate social responsibility agenda. We also wish to enhance areas such as research development, where we can, through internships and work placements, make use of undergraduates and graduates to help us with work associated with promoting sustainability.
It is my intention to publicly launch my Department’s corporate social responsibility policy shortly. It is being developed to take account of the wide spectrum of measures that we will take now and in the future.
In relation to procurement, my Department follows the guidance prepared by Central Procurement Directorate and the Equality Commission on sustainable development and equality of opportunity in public-sector procurement. In line with that guidance, action plans have recently been produced at my instruction by Roads Service, Northern Ireland Water and Translink. Those include proposals for implementing critical community impact and social objectives, such as increasing access to public-sector procurement opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises, encouraging the economically inactive back into the workplace, and encouraging training and skills development through, for instance, apprenticeships.
In addition, the Roads Service action plan ensures that social and environmental factors are taken into consideration alongside financial factors in making procurement decisions. The action plan has a package of measures to deliver the step change needed to ensure that Roads Service and its partners are focused on better design, low waste, higher recycled content, respect for biodiversity and delivery of its wider sustainable development goals.
I thank the Minister for his answers. Does the Minister agree that his Department can contribute very positively to the whole economic and social future of an area when it invests in, for instance, transport structure? Is he engaged in dialogue at the moment with DETI or the Department for Social Development (DSD) on how regeneration can take place in a number of towns and cities across Northern Ireland?
I agree with the Member that we can have a very positive impact. When people have argued for where the Executive’s resources should be focused, we have all made arguments about building up the infrastructure; be that roads, rail, houses, hospitals or schools. Building up the infrastructure is a very useful way to stimulate economic activity, and in the longer term also provides us with a solid base of assets going into the future.
The Department for Social Development is largely responsible for regeneration matters and works closely with Roads Service on its various town centre schemes. I have not had any discussions with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment on such matters, but I know that officials from a range of Departments work together on larger urban regeneration initiatives. For example, one will find officials from DETI, DSD, Roads Service and other bodies working together in the ILEX project in Derry and in some of the development projects in Belfast. Such co-operation is happening across the board on specific projects, which is good. Our form of Government gives Ministers the ability to interact regularly on such projects, which is helpful.