Image via Department of Finance
Finance Minister, Conor Murphy has announced a series of changes to public procurement which will bolster local supply chains, protect human rights and maximise opportunities for voluntary, community and social enterprise sectors.
The changes include a new policy for voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations. Making the announcement during a visit to Clearer Water, social enterprise in Larne Minister Murphy said: “Many public services, particularly those that serve disadvantaged people, are best provided by community groups. Yet community groups sometimes face barriers in tendering for contracts. The changes announced require government to remove unnecessary barriers to these organisations. As procurement is not always the right approach it also requires government to consider whether grants are a more appropriate form of commissioning services.”
Commenting on the positive impact the Procurement of Social and Other Specific Services procurement note will make, Colin Jess, Director of Social Enterprise NI said: “Social economy businesses and the wider voluntary and community sector are delighted to see the approval of the recent Public Procurement Notes. In particular we welcome the recognition that we should not always defer to procurement as the only option to deliver public services, but look to consider how a newly focused commissioning process can deliver real outcomes, utilising the inherent strengths of organisations in the sector and deliver more value for money for the NI economy.”
Under the changes, Departments must map supply chains for their critical supplies contracts with a renewed focus on local manufacturing.
Highlighting the benefits of this approach, Minister Murphy commented: “We have seen from the COVID-19 pandemic how fragile global supply chains can be. Thankfully many local companies stepped up to produce critical items such as PPE. Greater reliance on local supply chains will now be embedded into procurement policy. This will shorten travel distances, reduce carbon emissions, and bolster the local economy.”
Welcoming the Supply Chain Resilience Procurement note, Mary Meehan, Deputy Chief Executive of Manufacturing NI added: “The Covid-19 pandemic has caused delays and other frustrations in global supply chains, highlighting how vulnerable public sector suppliers are to unexpected disruption. This policy enables better risk management by gaining visibility into suppliers and their ability to respond and therefore encouraging shortened, local supply chains and the opportunity for more locally manufactured goods.”
The new procurement policies developed by the Procurement Board and agreed by the Executive will also mandate the actions that Departments must take to protect human rights in the delivery of government contracts.
Minister Murphy concluded: “With spending power of £3 billion annually, it is crucial that human rights considerations are embedded in public procurement. The previous Human Rights in Public Procurement guidance has now been elevated to mandatory Executive policy. Developed in conjunction with the Human Rights Commission this policy will help to prevent human rights abuses in government supply chains.”
NI Human Rights Chief Commissioner Alyson Kilpatrick, added: “It is a very welcome development that the Northern Ireland Executive will further embed the Human Rights Procurement Guidance Notes [PGN] into policy. This builds on a longstanding partnership between the Commission and the Construction and Procurement Delivery team in the Department of Finance. The policy document sets out the human rights obligations that government departments and public authorities must consider when conducting procurement processes. This includes measures to prevent and mitigate the risk of violations by contractors.
“It is of the utmost importance that when contracting to private companies and third sector providers, government does so with human rights at the centre of decision-making and operations. Human rights should be embedded in all procurement processes not least to help eradicate modern slavery, illegal child labour and health and safety breaches. We look forward to working with the Northern Ireland Executive in achieving this outcome.”