Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 7th June 2011.
My Department ensures that procurement for capital projects is carried out in line with the public procurement policy, as approved by the Executive in 2002, and in accordance with the principles of best practice. Economic, social and environmental strategies and initiatives compatible with existing EU and international law are integrated into all current procurement. That integration is transparent and aims not to discriminate directly or indirectly between suppliers. The Executive’s policy commitments, including equality, sustainable development and environmental standards are also incorporated into the procurement process.
The education sector utilises the Central Procurement Directorate’s standard major works procurement documentation, which takes into consideration the need to provide opportunities for small to medium-sized enterprises and social economy enterprises to compete for education projects. That documentation is revised on an ongoing basis to take account of changes in legislation, guidance and matters endorsed by the Executive and the procurement board.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Like others, I welcome the Minister to his first Question Time and wish him well in his portfolio. In previous questions and answers there was a mention of some projects that are ongoing. You are aware of the benefits of introducing social requirements. Have you plans to expand on the opportunities afforded by procurement, given the current economic difficulties?
My predecessor brought in a number of reviews in relation to procurement across the education boards. My departmental officials are further exploring those to see how we can expand that area. As part of their examinations, I have raised with them the issue not only of how we protect SMEs but of how we should expand their role. I also want them to look at how we can use the spending power of Departments to ensure that we tackle social disadvantage and long-term unemployment in all those matters. I hope to report to the House at a later stage. I suspect that it will be after the summer recess before we know how the procurement policy will roll out. Suggestions on how we tackle social disadvantage will certainly be contained in that document, and I am open to suggestions on that.
When it comes to including the social enterprise aspect of procurement, does the Minister agree that it is better to do so with a central procurement policy? If so, does he agree that the idea outlined by the Department to devolve to schools the power to procure some services, as opposed to that being done centrally, is contradictory?
Any changes we make will be done in consultation with the Central Procurement Directorate and in line with Executive policies, principles and papers. If the Member has any specific areas of concern, I am more than happy to take further details of those. I assure him that any policies we bring forward will be in line with the Executive’s thinking and with the way in which they are moving forward. My Department — I can speak only for it — has a major financial contribution to make to the economy, and I think that that contribution has to be used wisely in a bid to tackle social disadvantage. As I stated in an answer to the previous questioner, we are looking at procurement across the board, and I will bring a report about that to the Assembly. However, I am more than happy to discuss the matter further with the Member.
First, I congratulate the Minister on his recent appointment. What plans does he have to incorporate fair trade requirements into school meals procurement?
That matter is the responsibility of the purchasing body, be it the school or the board. I certainly encourage all bodies with access to resources to include fair trade in their purchasing policies.