Public Expenditure Questions

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This question was not selected for oral answer so I was not able to challenge the Minister directly about the loss of the library contract for the four Dublin local authorities which Irish companies were being undercut for.

To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his views on whether the public sector procurement policies are playing a role in driving small companies out of business; and his plans to change them.

The reform of the procurement system across the public service is a key element of the reform programme for the public service.  Public Procurement savings enable public service organisations deliver much needed services within the tighter budgets that they much now operate. The fragmented procurement arrangements across the public service have enabled suppliers to charge different public service bodies different prices for the same goods and services. This is not sustainable, as the State cannot afford to continue to purchase works, goods and services in a manner that undermines the level of services it can deliver.   

Reforms are being carried out in a manner that recognises the importance of SMEs in the economic recovery of the country.  The establishment of the Office of Government Procurement will be key to bringing a more professional and whole of government approach to procurement. It will drive fair, transparent and open competition in the marketplace but also continue to work with business to ensure that government procurement policies are business friendly.

As a government we want better value for money for our substantial procurement spend and we want Irish SMEs, where necessary, to form consortia to ensure they can tender on a competitive basis for this work.  In this regard the Office of Government Procurement has facilitated workshops and presented at seminars to over 4,500 SMEs nationwide.  These ‘Meet the Buyer’ events afforded suppliers an opportunity to meet and discuss the issues with public service buyers and provide networking opportunities for suppliers and encourage consortia-building. 

The Office of Government Procurement is committed to ensuring that SMEs are fully engaged with public sector procurement and the opportunities presenting.  In conjunction with the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, the OGP has set up a high level group on SME access to Public Procurement.  The focus of this group is to develop and monitor strategies for SME access to public procurement.  The group also has regard to the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs and specifically those actions aimed at maximising procurement opportunities for SME in the public sector.  In this context my Department has also recently finished reviewing and updating existing guidelines and procedures aimed at promoting SME participation in public procurement.  Circular 10/14, launched on 17 April, sets out new initiatives aimed at opening up opportunities for small businesses to bid for State business, reducing barriers in the procurement process and reducing costs for bidders.  These new guidelines have been broadly welcomed by industry representative associations. 

DÁIL QUESTIONS addressed to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin
by Deputies 
for ORAL ANSWER on Wednesday, 4th June, 2014.  

To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the initiatives the Office of Public Works has undertaken to make empty State property and facilities available to local authorities to assist in dealing with the housing crisis.

– Clare Daly TD

The Office of Public Works (OPW) on behalf of the State manages a large and diverse property portfolio which ranges from office accommodation to heritage properties, visitors centres, Garda stations, among others.  Within this portfolio, there are a number of vacant properties.

The majority of those properties currently vacant are the recently closed Garda stations.  The remainder consists of properties such as customs posts, former coastguard stations and sundry other properties located throughout the country.  

The OPW has a clearly defined policy relating to vacant properties that are identified as surplus to its requirements.  In the first instance, the OPW engages with other Public Service bodies, including relevant local Authorities, to establish the potential for alternative use, in advance of deciding on their disposal.  Such alternative use includes the potential for these properties to be made available for social housing or other social needs.  

The OPW has been actively involved with the relevant authorities to identify potential properties within the portfolio that could be considered suitable to address the current issues. For example, the OPW agreed to make a number of properties available to the Housing Agency and is currently engaged with them in relation to leasing arrangements.  In addition, the OPW recently made a property available to the Dublin Region Homeless Executive.  It is intended that this property will be used as residential centre to support vulnerable women affected by long-term homelessness.

Deputies will be aware that on 20 May 2014, my colleague, the Minister for Housing and Planning published theImplementation Plan on the State’s Response to Homelessness in which the Government’s approach to delivery on its objective of ending involuntary long-term homelessness by the end of 2016 was outlined.  

This plan sets out a range of measures to secure a ring-fenced supply of accommodation to house homeless households within the next three years and mobilise the necessary supports.  Progress in implementing the plan will be reported quarterly by the Minister for Housing and Planning through the Cabinet Committee on Social Policy.

The D/ECLG will chair a working group involving the key stakeholders.  The group will identify potential suitable and available properties with a view to putting in place the necessary arrangements to facilitate their use as housing units. 

With regard to determining the criteria by which a property is judged suitable for social housing, this is primarily a matter for the relevant housing authorities.  However, I am advised that, in general, the following criteria would apply:

  • the suitability of the property, given that many of them are purpose built Garda stations;
  • the location of the properties and the level of demand in that area; and
  • its current condition and the cost of refurbishment.

As stated earlier, the vacant State portfolio will form part of the option appraisal to deliver residential units currently being completed by the relevant housing authorities.