Education and Library Boards: Procurement

Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 14th December 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin 2:30 pm, 14th December 2010

2. asked the Minister of Education for an update on the investigations into the procurement practices in the North Eastern Education and Library Board and the South Eastern Education and Library Board. (AQO 764/11)

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

Thug mé le fios don Tionól, sa ráiteas scríofa ar an 23 Samhain 2010, gur chuir mé tús le fiosrúchán seachtrach ar na himthosca um fháil Thionscadail Ard Schoil Mhachaire Fíolta agus an obair a bhain léi.

In my written statement of 23 November 2010, I informed the House that I had initiated an external investigation of the circumstances around the procurement and work associated with the Magherafelt High School project. In my statement, I also advised that I had commissioned a comprehensive investigation of the operation of a measured-term contract and wider procurement practices in the South Eastern Education and Library Board. Both investigations are in progress and involve a substantial programme of work. I will, of course, keep the Assembly updated on the investigations and subsequent actions arising. I expect to have a report prior to Christmas on each of those, at which time I will decide what further steps are needed. However, as these are live investigations, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further at this time.

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for her answer. I understand that she cannot go into detail, but there are problems. Does the Minister believe that this is symptomatic of wider issues in the boards?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

Níl seo soiléir faoi láthair ach socróidh mé ar chóir na athbhreithnithe a shíneadh nó nár choir nuair a gheobhaidh mé torthaí na bhfiosrúchán seo.

It is not clear, but, on receipt of the findings from the investigation, I will determine whether the reviews should be extended.

Photo of Ian McCrea Ian McCrea DUP

The Minister highlighted the economic appraisal for Magherafelt High School. She will also be aware that the primary school and nursery unit is being held back because of that issue. Can she give an idea of when the Department will release that information to allow the board to go out to tender?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

I will respond in writing to the Member on that. As the Member is aware, that is one of the 13 schools that I approved in August, but I hope that all those schools will be on site.

Photo of Billy Armstrong Billy Armstrong UUP

Given the uncertainty surrounding the Budget, has the Department of Education advised any school not to proceed any further in the procurement process for school newbuilds?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

With respect, I am not sure how that links to the question. Suffice it to say that my Department is ensuring that all our procurement adheres to our statutory duties and to equality. It is important that all the parties here support our proposals to ensure that education gets the funding that it deserves in any Budget settlement.

Photo of Declan O'Loan Declan O'Loan Social Democratic and Labour Party

These are very serious cases, and I read the Minister’s written statement with considerable alarm and concern. Is it not possible that there is some responsibility on the Department for these matters? Would the investigation not therefore need some independent element?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

The investigation is independent. Of course the Department has a role to play in stewardship. Is leis na Boird Oideachais agus Leabharlann í an fhreagracht fála san earnáil rialaithe.

Responsibility for procurement across the controlled sector rests with the education and library boards, and the Department has regularly sought and received assurance that procurement practices are in line with best practice as set out in CPD guidance. My Department holds regular accountability meetings with the boards at which procurement issues are discussed. Once my Department has become aware of issues, I have acted immediately and swiftly.