Procurement Board

Oral Answers to Questions — Finance – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 19th October 2020.

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Photo of Gerry Kelly Gerry Kelly Sinn Féin 3:00 pm, 19th October 2020

7. Mr G Kelly asked the Minister of Finance for an update on his plans to reconvene the Procurement Board. (AQO 927/17-22)

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

The Procurement Board is responsible for setting policy priorities for procurement expenditure, which influences around 25% of the Executive's Budget. It is important to ensure that these policies are developed by experts in public procurement, along with representatives of the key sectors of the economy.

I have asked the Executive to agree to a reconstituted Procurement Board, and I have asked the appointment representatives of key sectors of the economy to work with procurement professionals to develop future policy. It is important to ensure that procurement policy is informed by experts, if it is to address the immediate priorities of the Executive in regard to economic growth, social value and the faster delivery of infrastructure projects

Photo of Gerry Kelly Gerry Kelly Sinn Féin

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as a fhreagra go dtí seo. I thank the Minister for his answers so far. I am glad to hear that the board is to be set up. How does the Minister intend to ensure that social value is at the heart of such procurement?

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

In reconstituting the board, the intention is to have expertise on it and to ensure that the policies and advice that it brings forward are adopted by the Executive. Social value is a key policy objective for me and the Department. We want to ensure that, when those policies are agreed, they do not just sit in the Procurement Board but, to make sure that they are effective, they filter down through all the Departments and arm's-length bodies. In some of our public institutions, there is a tendency to be overloaded with policies but not have much by way of implementation. My idea in reconstituting the board is to get expert advice, get Executive approval for policies and then follow through, in each Department and arm's-length body, to make sure that things like social value are properly put in place in procurement.

Photo of Sinéad Bradley Sinéad Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party

I appreciate the Minister's response, particularly his reference to putting together the Procurement Board. Does he accept that the Procurement Board must work as part of a much wider framework? If so, will he also consider the appointment of a one-off fiscal commission to examine budgetary settings and structural challenges for the economy in the difficult times ahead?

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin 3:15 pm, 19th October 2020

You are correct in that procurement is one part of public spending; it is about 25% of public spending, so it is very important. It is important that we have policies attached to that: things like social value and more efficiency around the spend are key. I am looking at the idea of a fiscal council to assist with the overarching spending plans and what levers we have available around revenue raising.

Photo of Gordon Dunne Gordon Dunne DUP

As Minister, you will be aware of the concerns around unacceptable delays in the opening of tender documents for public-sector schemes. What have you done, as Minister, to try and progress that issue?

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

If the Member has specific issues, I ask him to communicate with us and we can look into those. Of course, we want procurement to be as efficient as possible and to make sure that tenders and all the issues are done in such a way that Departments are delivering them as quickly as possible. During the pandemic, we sent a note to all Departments to advise them to get construction projects ready and to make sure that they were at the point of tenders going out, even when the construction industry was shut down during the earlier lockdown phase — to do that and get those issues ready so that all the procedural things were done and construction could very quickly get back up and running again.

We are always keen to improve on efficiency and effectiveness. If there are specific issues that the Member is aware of, I invite him to let us know and we will deal with them.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

The time for listed questions has passed, and we now move to topical questions.