Thursday, 18 April 2019
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Small and Medium Enterprises
6. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the material changes the Office of Government Procurement has undertaken to better enable indigenous small and medium enterprises, SMEs, to apply for public contracts; the amount spent on public contracts in 2018; the proportion of that spend that was to SMEs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17985/19]
Public procurement is a priority for the Government and has undergone significant reform aimed at ensuring sustainable delivery of much-needed public services, while also encouraging and supporting SME participation in these business opportunities. This approach is beneficial for the State because it nurtures competition, which ensures value for money is maintained, and provides SMEs with a platform to take advantage of similar opportunities in Ireland and throughout the European Union. Specifically, the OGP has developed a suite of policy measures aimed at assisting SMEs to access public procurement opportunities. These include proportionate financial capacity criteria, contracting authorities being encouraged to divide public contracts into lots, provision for consortia bidding, and public bodies being required to advertise on the national eTenders portal contracts for goods and services valued above €25,000.
In addition, my colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for procurement, Deputy O’Donovan, chairs quarterly meetings of an SME advisory group, in accordance with the programme for Government. This ensures that the voice of SMEs is heard by the Government. The tender advisory service, which was relaunched in 2018, was set up to assist SMEs with public procurement issues. The service is an initiative developed out of the SME advisory group. The OGP proactively engages with the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, InterTrade Ireland and Enterprise Ireland to promote SME access to public procurement. It participates at Go-2-Tender workshops and meet the buyer events held throughout the country, which are designed to help SMEs. The most recent analysis, which was made available in 2016, pointed out that 94% of the spend under the remit of the OGP fell within the State, while 53% was to SMEs.
I will focus on the points the Minister made about the role of the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, who has responsibility for public procurement and the awarding of such contracts. He stated that there is an SME advisory group, on which the Minister of State sits, and that it meets regularly. What recommendations have emanated from the group in respect of amendments to existing legislation that might be necessary to improve the lot of SMEs?
The main measures undertaken by the Minister of State when considering how SMEs can play a larger role in this area were influenced by the advisory group. I have outlined some of them, such as examining turnover requirements, dividing public contracts into lots, providing for consortia bidding and requiring public bodies to advertise contracts above €25,000. A number of other measures that were influenced by the group have been put in place, such as undertaking market analysis prior to tendering to ensure that the market is able to respond to tenders, participating in a wide range of events - OGP representatives attended 50 external events - and encouraging businesses to register on eTenders, the Government's national tendering platform. All these measures have been either influenced or driven by the group to which the Deputy refers.
Will the Minister confirm that no legislation will be required to ensure those recommendations and policy initiatives are not prevented from being successful due to restrictions imposed by existing legislation governing the issue? We produced a Bill in this regard. If necessary, we could work in tandem to ensure the commitments contained within the recommendations, the policy initiatives of the group and the thrust of the Bill we drafted could produce the sorts of results we are expected to achieve.
Everything we are doing can be undertaken within the existing legal framework. We do not need further legislative change to the procurement process. In reply to a question at our previous session of priority questions, which feels like only yesterday, I acknowledged that Deputies Cowen and Jonathan O'Brien had a number of proposals about the issue and I suggested meeting after Easter to have a discussion about them. No further legal changes will be needed. Given that both parties have ideas, we will have a discussion about them after Easter.