Titanic Signature Project

Enterprise, Trade and Investment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 23rd February 2010.

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Photo of Jimmy Spratt Jimmy Spratt DUP 3:15 pm, 23rd February 2010

4. asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment what action her Department is taking to ensure that local construction and engineering companies benefit from work generated as a result of the Titanic signature project.  (AQO 823/10)

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

The delivery of the Titanic signature building is the responsibility of the Titanic Foundation Ltd, which is an independent charitable company. It has contracted in accordance with public procurement rules with Harcourt Construction (Northern Ireland) Ltd for the design and build of the signature building. The award of subcontracts under the main contract, which sit outside the public procurement rules, is a matter for Harcourt Construction. However, it has given a commitment to Titanic Foundation Ltd and the Construction Employers Federation to advertise subcontract packages through various media to enable local firms to participate in the delivery of the Titanic signature building.

Photo of Jimmy Spratt Jimmy Spratt DUP

I thank the Minister for her answer. Does she agree with me that many Northern Ireland firms have been involved in major projects, including work that was carried out at St Pancras station in London, which EDM Spanwall was involved in? Will she try to ensure as much as possible that such Northern Ireland firms are included in any project within the Titanic Quarter given their expertise in the field?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

As I indicated in my answer to the substantive question, Harcourt is not under any obligation to go through a public procurement exercise. However, reflecting the concerns of local representatives, and input from myself, it has agreed that it will continue to be as open and transparent as possible. I hope to visit EDM Spanwall at the invitation of the Member in the near future. I also understand that Harcourt has facilitated a meeting between EDM Spanwall and the successful bidder, obviously without any prejudice to the outcome of that meeting.

It is important that we are as open and transparent as we possibly can be on such matters. Given the large amount of public money that has been put into the Titanic Quarter, it is important that our firms not only can, but believe that they can, become part of what is going on there. I know that that is the subject of a debate at the moment, but it is important that small firms can access those big contracts so that they can be part of what is going on in the Titanic Quarter.

Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for her answer, which encourages me somewhat. However, I would be further encouraged if the design and specification of contracts was such that small and medium-sized enterprises could successfully compete for those subcontracts. The Minister will be aware of the recent closures in east Belfast, in particular, that of the Hughes Christensen factory.

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

The Member must ask a question.

Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party

In conclusion, I ask the Minister to be sensitive to and cognisant of that workforce, which is out of work but has extraordinary engineering capacity.

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I am fully aware of the engineering capacity of Hughes Christensen — or Baker Hughes — and its employees. That is something that I will continue to keep an eye on, because I believe that our firms here in Northern Ireland should have the opportunity to apply for big contracts wherever they may be, but, obviously, I have particular interest in the Titanic Quarter, given the amount of public money that has been made available. If people bring me evidence or ask me questions about the Titanic Quarter, I am more than happy to speak to Titanic Foundation Ltd and Harcourt directly to ensure that local people have the opportunity not only to gain employment but to have access to the subcontract work.

Part of the memorandum of understanding that was drawn up, with which Belfast City Council was involved, because of the money that it put into the Titanic signature project, includes various clauses about social, economic and environmental issues. One of those is to encourage the economically inactive back into the workplace, and Harcourt has agreed to secure the creation of employment opportunities for one long-term unemployed person — defined as someone who has been unemployed for at least three months — either directly or through the supply chain for each £5 million of the project value.

Therefore, those social and economic clauses are included in the memorandum of understanding. It is important that those are complied with, and we must ensure that they are.

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I welcome the Minister’s comments in her answers. Will she go further and ensure that any contracts, secured through public procurement tenders by companies involved in work such as the Titanic signature project and other public works through the Department, will be evaluated not only on value for money but on social and environmental outcomes, particularly in areas of disadvantage and need?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

They are evaluated on that basis, and that is what today’s debate on public procurement is about. I am not in charge of public procurement, which is a matter for the Minister of Finance and Personnel, but I have a particular issue with the contract for the Titanic signature project because of the public money that came out of DETI for it. I take the Member’s points on board. That is why social and economic clauses are reflected in that memorandum of understanding. Harcourt won the public procurement competition, and, therefore, it has gone through the public procurement set of rules. It is important that subcontractors continue to have as open and transparent a process as possible so that they can help to build what will be, I hope, an iconic signature building.