Tuesday, 19 July 2011
Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation
Question 47: To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the reforms he plans and when he proposes to introduce assurances that public procurement can become a tool to support innovation and allow greater access to small and medium-sized businesses. [21156/11]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 37 and 47 together.
Public procurement is governed by a complex set of EU rules to ensure fairness and transparency. However, given the size of the market, and the predominance of small and medium sized enterprises in Ireland, public procurement can be an important source of business for SMEs within the context of EU and national tendering rules. According to the latest data available to me from the National Procurement Service, the value of the public procurement market in Ireland in 2009 was €16 billion.
The Programme for Government includes a commitment to reform public procurement so that it supports innovative firms and allows greater access to public procurement by SMEs. The Minister for Finance, in introducing the Jobs Initiative to the Dáil on 10May last, also indicated that the Government will build on existing initiatives to promote greater access to procurement opportunities for SMEs, including through identifying and overcoming barriers to their participation in the procurement process.
The Jobs Initiative also includes a commitment that the Government will seek to foster greater SME engagement in developing innovative products and services to meet the needs of public bodies within the framework of EU law, and will explore schemes in other EU countries in that regard.
It is worth acknowledging that there have been some recent developments aimed at improving access by SMEs to public procurement. These measures include:
- The publication by my Department in 2009 of a 10-Step Guide to Smart Procurement and SME Access to Public Contracts . This Guide provides practical advice to public bodies on measures which could boost the involvement of SMEs in public procurement.
- In August 2010, the Department of Finance issued new guidelines to public contracting authorities, aimed at ensuring that tendering processes operate in a manner that facilitates increased participation by SMEs. These guidelines include practical suggestions to facilitate access to procurement by SMEs, such as reducing the level of administrative requirements in the early stages of the tendering process, ensuring that pre-qualification criteria are proportionate, and sub-dividing contracts into lots.
- Enterprise Ireland has a dedicate Public Procurement Team to focus on procurement opportunities in Ireland and abroad for indigenous companies, including SMEs, and to accelerate knowledge within contracting authorities in the public service of the potential of these companies.
Building on these initiatives, and to drive forward the Government's commitments in the Programme for Government, a Steering Group on SME Access to Public Procurement has been established by my Department to examine what more can be done to improve SME participation in tendering for public contracts and to recommend actions that will deliver results.
The Steering Group will also examine the potential for developing a new scheme that provides opportunities for SMEs to provide innovative solutions to public sector requirements, based on schemes operated in other countries. The Group will make recommendations on foot of its considerations.
The Steering Group consists of the key players in the public procurement area, including the National Public Procurement Policy Unit of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the National Procurement Service, Enterprise Ireland, InterTradeIreland, and my own Department which chairs the Group.
The Steering Group's inaugural meeting took place last week. The Group is now drawing up a work programme which will identify specific actions to be taken within clear timeframes to improve SME access to participation in public procurement. The Group will report regularly to me and to Minister Bruton on progress.