25 February 2010 | Gareth Mytton
Public sector buyers in Northern Ireland must use the government’s £3 billion procurement spend to support “economic and social wellbeing”, politicians have urged.
Sinn Féin representative Jennifer McCann, chair of the Committee for Finance and Personnel (CFP), said greater engagement with Northern Irish suppliers could bring long-term benefits to the local community.
“The Northern Ireland executive can use public procurement strategically, as a tool for assisting smaller enterprises in realising their full potential and for supporting longer-term economic and social wellbeing. We believe that this should and must be done.”
McCann was speaking at an assembly debate on the CFP’s report, Public Procurement Policy and Practice in Northern Ireland, published earlier this month.
In response to the recommendations, finance minister and Democratic Unionist Party member Sammy Wilson told assembly members: “Seventy-six per cent of all contracts awarded by the Central Procurement Directorate (CPD) in 2006-09 went to local firms, the vast majority of which are small and medium-sized enterprises.
“In relation to construction specifically, 90 per cent of all contracts awarded by CPD over this same period went to local firms.”
He also said there were plans to set up a Forum for Business to develop local suppliers. The project will be modelled on Northern Ireland's Construction Industry Forum, which has slashed bidding costs for suppliers and helped provide opportunities for vendors of all sizes.
The CFP’s report made 46 recommendations on how the public sector could use procurement to achieve social and economic aims. These included opening a “large and stable market” to small firms and not using large-scale framework agreements unless the government can prove they are required. It also urged public buyers to overcome their “reticence” to pursuing social benefits through procurement. It said greater government clarity on the definition and measurement of “social value” would help.