Dáil debates

Tuesday, 16 November 2021

Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Public Procurement Contracts

8:40 pm

Photo of Mairead FarrellMairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein)
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62. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the progress to date of the interim procurement reform board under the remit of his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56103/21]

Photo of Mairead FarrellMairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein)
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What is the progress to date of the interim procurement reform board under the remit of the Minister of State's Department?

Photo of Ossian SmythOssian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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The interim procurement reform board was appointed by the then Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in May 2017 to provide oversight of the delivery of the procurement reform programme, advise the Government on national public procurement strategy and advise on the objectives and business plans of the Office of Government Procurement. The board meets quarterly and presents an annual report to me, as Minister of State with special responsibility for public procurement. The most recent report, for 2020, was published in August and is available on the OGP’s web page on gov.ie.

The board comprises 11 members, two of whom are independent members recruited from outside the public sector, eight are senior public servants drawn from a wide range of Departments and the chairperson is the former Secretary General of the Department of Defence, now retired. The terms of reference of the board include that it will provide oversight to the implementation of the public procurement reform programme, which has had considerable success to date. Governance arrangements have been established to foster collaboration and co-operation across the OGP and the main sectors of health, local government, education and defence. Representatives of health, local government and education are included in the board’s membership.

Through the development of a suite of centralised arrangements, the Government’s purchasing power has been leveraged by speaking to the market with one voice. Procurement reform has delivered a programme of policy supports for SMEs and built an awareness in industry regarding the opportunities arising from public procurement. The board promotes active engagement with these arrangements across the public service.

The OGP, in consultation with the board, has been developing proposals on the refinement of public procurement following engagement with our colleagues across Government and industry. These will enhance public procurement, building on the progress to date, with a more strategic focus and increased emphasis on sustainability, social responsibility, SME access, innovation, digitisation and professionalisation.

Photo of Mairead FarrellMairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein)
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The national children's hospital was initially estimated to cost €650 million but the latest estimate stands at €2.4 billion, an increase of approximately 270%. The national broadband plan, initially estimated to cost €350 million, is now estimated to cost €5.7 billion, an increase of 1,530%. Behind schedule and over cost are hallmarks of procurement failure and the OGP does not collect data on the specific reasons for cost overruns. It seems that from a public policy perspective, this kind of information would be crucial. The procurement reform board needs to get a handle on the reasons for these cost overruns.

SI 284/2016 requires contracting authorities to prepare a written report for every procurement contract and also empowers the Minister of State to request other information in the form of a statistical report. Will he commit to gathering those data, either through the procurement reform board or by asking the OGP to do it?

Photo of Ossian SmythOssian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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The Government has a huge capital investment programme and the OGP oversees roughly €16 billion in expenditure on goods and services. The idea of that is to centralise that spend to achieve three main objectives, namely, value for money, quality and transparency. Added to that, in looking at strategic procurements, we seek social conditions and green procurement.

The Deputy asked where we find where matters have gone wrong, how we can build on that and so on. We require that contracting authorities report back on their non-competitive or non-compliant procurement that takes place during the year-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank the Minister of State.

Photo of Mairead FarrellMairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein)
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It will please the Minister of State to learn I have a Bill forthcoming that relates to public procurement. One of its aims is to improve the approach to procurement data collection. Another Bill I have introduced, the Regulation of Tenderers Bill, which has passed First Stage, attempts to address the issue of bid rigging, something that everyone now understands is a problem. We often hear that Ministers want us to come up with solutions, and there are solutions in my Bills. I hope the Minister of State will support my Bill, which seeks to improve the approach to procurement data collection. It is really important in order that we can collect data that will help inform policymakers of the causes of cost overruns.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank the Deputy. Time is up.

Photo of Ossian SmythOssian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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Data collection is essential and I am glad the Deputy will, I believe, support the forthcoming planning and procurement Bill, which I hope will achieve cross-party support along with social conditions and green public procurement. As for her own Bill, I am happy to engage with her and see what she is trying to achieve. I am absolutely committed to open data and transparency, which will help us to achieve our goals in public procurement. She outlined occasions where public procurement has not succeeded in various contracting authorities, but it has to be recognised the vast majority have delivered value for money and furthered the aims of the Government and the people.