Social Clauses

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:45 pm on 3rd February 2020.

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Photo of Caoimhe Archibald Caoimhe Archibald Sinn Féin 3:45 pm, 3rd February 2020

3. Dr Archibald asked the Minister for Communities whether social clauses will be included in all capital contracts to ensure social value for the beneficiaries of departmental investment. (AQO 30/17-22)

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for her question. The Executive policy of integrating social considerations into contracts defines public-sector commitments to incorporate social clauses into public procurement. The buy social model has been operated by the strategic investment board since 2016 and has proven to be an effective means of providing targeted recruitment and training opportunities for long-term unemployed people, apprentices and students. Social clauses are intended to provide genuine, sustainable training and employment opportunities and are not to be seen as a source of low-cost labour.

I am committed to the promotion of the buy social model to incorporate social clauses into construction and services contracts according to the relevant thresholds as set out in the procurement guidance. I will also do other work cross-departmentally around a social value Act, which is an important piece of work. I have experience from working in local government of looking at local government strategies around inclusive growth. It is a critical point as we move forward that contracts cannot be looked at just in terms of low cost. We need to look at the impact that they have on social value and on targeting objective need, and also at issues around how we change the culture and use public procurement and contracts to do that on issues such as a living wage, where we mark up those employers who are living wage employers to try to create a more just economic model and system.

Photo of Caoimhe Archibald Caoimhe Archibald Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for her response. We all recognise the immense benefit of local and social clauses. I welcome the fact that she is working cross-departmentally on a social value Act. Will she ensure that the Department follows international best practice to maximise the impact of social clauses?

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

Yes, I will look at those best practices and take them forward in the time ahead.

Photo of Paula Bradley Paula Bradley DUP

We have had social clauses under various Ministers in what was DSD over many years, and those social clauses, on many occasions, were not fit for purpose and did not have the real value that was intended. In going forward, will the Minister talk to the Minister for the Economy to look at those skills and trades, which will help our communities not only in the next few years but for many years to come to build capacity among those communities in those skills and trades?

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for making an important point. I have written to the Minister for the Economy to pick up on a number of those issues, so I hope that we will meet in the coming weeks. This is one of the issues around the skills and employability agenda that we will discuss in the time ahead, so hopefully we can move forward on those issues cross-departmentally.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

I welcome the Minister to her place and wish her well. She and I both served on Belfast City Council, and she knows that the experience there with social clauses was not a universally positive one. People point to the skyline of Belfast and its expansion as a sign of the progress that we are making, and that is true. Does the Minister agree that it is essential that inner-city communities, such as the Markets, Sandy Row, Donegall Pass, the Village and Donegall Road, see the benefit of major government contracts and that it is not simply measured by extra buildings going up? Does she agree that social clauses, properly implemented, will be a useful way of ensuring that those communities see the benefits of major infrastructure projects?

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

I agree wholeheartedly with the Member. Thank you for your question. It should be about the social value that is added and particularly about targeting objective need. I fully agree with that, and I will look closely at that in the time ahead.