Oral Answers to Questions — Finance – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 30th June 2020.

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Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP 2:45 pm, 30th June 2020

5. Mr Storey asked the Minister of Finance for his assessment of the benefits of Constructionline to the procurement process in Northern Ireland. (AQO 512/17-22)

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

The use of Constructionline reduces tendering costs by removing the need for suppliers to submit their annual accounts each time they apply to tender for a construction contract. That is particularly beneficial for smaller firms as it means that valuable resources can instead focus on delivering projects. Given the impact of the pandemic, it is more important than ever that construction projects are brought to the market as quickly as possible, and Constructionline also saves buyers time by providing a standard assessment of each supplier's financial standing.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

I thank the Minister for reading what the Department gave to him. Undoubtedly, the issue always is, when we come to the House, how the Department views itself on many of these things.

Sadly, many in the construction business will not share this positive response about the practical help given by Constructionline and the procurement process. The Minister knows that this is an issue. I have written to him a number of times on —.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Can the Member come to his question?

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

The Minister specifically referred to post-COVID. Will he give an assurance that serious consideration will be given to the help that companies need to allow them to be proactively involved in procurement through Constructionline in a way that is beneficial to them and to start the economy again in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin 3:00 pm, 30th June 2020

As the Member probably knows, Constructionline is a private-sector company that provides a service that is useful in the procurement process. The process gives the financial assessment of companies, offers various levels of registration and makes offers which are proportionate to suppliers' turnover. I imagine that those who are using it will find it of some benefit.

I recognise what the Member has said about procurement. It is a key discussion for us coming out of COVID. The Departments — all Departments — have had the ability, when pressed, to turn things around quickly. Things that would ordinarily have taken months of consultations and, maybe, pilot schemes and all of that. For example, as I said in response to the last question, business support grants have been 95% effective thus far, which is remarkable.

The lessons we have learned from the pandemic can be applied to how Departments can be proactive, engage with sectors, ensure they talk to sectors and how they can best help return the economy to as full a throttle, if you like, as is possible. Clearly, construction is a key part of that as is the public sector procurement of construction. We have been working with CPD to engage with the construction industry on the safety of returning. We have also instructed Departments to bring forward projects and to make sure that issues which may hold up projects are brought forward so that projects are at a point of readiness. When construction can get back to full operation, as it is currently doing, we will be ready to go with projects. We want to streamline this process as much as we can and ensure the engagement with the construction sector works as best it can. Of course, we have to protect the public purse as that is part of our responsibility, but the experience of the pandemic shows that we can do both. We can do things better and at pace and still make sure that there is proper accountability for public finances.