23 January 2014 | Gurjit Degun
Public sector procurement in Northern Ireland lacks a “joined up collaborative strategy”, according to a report by the country's Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
Public purchasing accounts for around £2.7 billion expenditure each year in Northern Ireland, and buying common goods and services for central government is estimated to cost around £900 million per year.
The current processes have been in place since 2002, and the vast majority of procurement is organised by the Central Procurement Directorate (CPD) and Centres of Procurement Expertise (CoPEs).
The PAC report said the current structures are not creating enough opportunities for more efficient procurement. It added there is not enough collaborative procurement and many CoPEs are buying the same common goods and services.
“Disturbingly, there is evidence of arm’s length bodies paying several times more than the lowest prices for common goods like laptops and computer monitors,” the report said.
The committee called for more to be done to encourage small to medium enterprises (SMEs) and micro-businesses to bid for public sector contracts, and for sub-contractors to be treated fairly and paid promptly.
It also accused the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) of setting “unambitious collaborative procurement savings targets”.
PAC chairman Michaela Boyle MLA added: “It is unacceptable that DFP and the wider public sector do not have ready access to or share the basic management information necessary to facilitate effective collaboration.
“As well, we found that CPD is not recording sufficient information that would allow for more robust collaboration between different CoPEs.
"In light of this, the committee believes that it would be beneficial to review the current procurement structures to improve both procedures and outcomes.”
Finance minister Simon Hamilton added: “It is important not only to look at the award of any contract but also the impact of that contract award on other Northern Ireland suppliers and contractors working in that sector.
“We need to think carefully about the use and impact of large value collaborative contracts because if not handled correctly it could prevent local SMEs from bidding for government contracts.”