Thursday, 15 July 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Public Procurement Contracts
86. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development if her Department has considered the role that social and labour procurement clauses could play in the development of economies in rural Ireland. [38307/21]
In public procurement, social clauses are legal obligations which require contractors to create some form of added value as part of the contract. That can come in the form of labour activation, promoting the participation of SMEs, an obligation to provide a living wage and so on. What consideration has the Minister's Department given to the role that social and labour procurement clauses could play in the development of economies in rural Ireland?
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. As she will be aware, responsibility for public procurement lies with my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth. However, socially responsible public procurement is a whole-of-government priority. It is critical that public funds are used for the maximum benefit of society. Social clauses can also play an important role in rural development.
Ireland's rural development policy, Our Rural Future, includes a commitment to “expand the use of socially responsible public procurement contracts, where feasible, which will incentivise the engagement of social enterprises and Circular Economy organisations”. The Programme for Government: Our Shared Future also contains a number of commitments in this area including a commitment to optimise the community benefit of products and services procured by the State.
My Department is leading by example in the use of social clauses by, for instance, including such clauses in the procurement of sensory room facilities in public libraries. To fulfil one of the commitments of the national social enterprise policy, my Department also participates actively in the Office of Government Procurement's strategic procurement advisory group to help policy makers better understand how procurement can be used to advance social policy objectives. Finally, the Department of Justice's social enterprise and employment strategy, Working to Change, also sets a target for 10% of all criminal justice system procurement contracts to include social considerations by the end of 2023.
I am aware the Minister's Department has done work on social clauses. It is one of only seven Departments to have done so. The Minister has mentioned the involvement of social enterprises in the provision of sensory facilities and equipment in public libraries. I welcome and acknowledge that. I also acknowledge that a public body under the Minister's Department, Pobal, has also done work in this regard. The main problem is that the only reason I know this is because I gathered the data myself. I contacted 18 Departments, 184 public bodies and 31 local authorities to get that information. Information on social clauses really should be included in the annual reports of all Departments. As information on green procurement will appear in these annual reports, it makes sense to also collect information on social clauses and social procurement. As the Minister's Department is one of the seven to have led the way on this, will she commit to examining whether such information on social clauses could also be included in her Department's annual report?
I thank the Deputy. I absolutely agree with her on the benefit of including social clauses. It is important and, where possible, there should be social benefits. My Department is particularly focused on social enterprises. We have a strategy to promote these but it a question of how to get that other aspect into the public procurement process. As the Deputy will know, the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, has responsibility for this specific area. I am happy to raise the issue with him.
I do not see any reason we cannot look at putting the impact of the social clauses into our report. I am happy to take the suggestion on board.
Hopefully, in the post-Covid world, we will try to rebuild the economy on a regionally balanced basis and people who have moved back into rural areas as a result of Covid-19 will contribute to that. Community wealth-building and the inclusion of social clauses would be key to that. It is something I have an interest in and, as the Minister said, if we spend public money, it should have a public benefit and help people in terms of labour activation, training, skills and that kind of thing. That will help on a rural and regionally balanced basis.
I am delighted the Minister will speak to the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth. That would be good because we need a more strategic and co-ordinated approach to using public money to support the public good. I hope the Government takes a more co-ordinated approach. As I said, the Department of Rural and Community Development is one of only seven that uses social clauses.
Government policies include the national social enterprise policy, Our Rural Future, the new national rural development policy, A Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy, and Working to Change: Social Enterprise and Employment Strategy 2021-2023. There is an emphasis in all those policies. The establishment of the strategic procurement advisory group under the auspices of the Office of Government Procurement is another strong indication of the Government's commitment to socially responsible public procurement. The Department of Rural and Community Development is an active member of the group and I will bring that issue up with the group. We are working on the supply side with social enterprises to equip them with the knowledge and skills to access public procurement and on the demand side to encourage greater use of social clauses across government. I agree with the Deputy on these issues.