That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to increase competition in the public procurement tendering process by enhancing Small and Medium Sized Businesses ability to compete for public procurement tenders by allowing public bodies to have regard to economic, social and environmental well-being in connection with public services contracts; and to provide for related matters.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle, for the opportunity to introduce the Public Services and Procurement (Social Value) Bill 2017. I also thank my colleague, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, for co-sponsoring the Bill and for his help in its preparation. The Bill is drawn from legislation which he drafted and which passed Second Stage in the Seanad in 2015.
Small and medium-sized enterprises play a vital role in our economy, driving on growth and employing some 900,000 people across the island. However, many of these enterprises face significant administrative and legal barriers in competing for State contracts. The purpose of this legislation is to address the absence in our procurement guidelines of a social value clause, which other European countries have included in their procurement legislation.
Section 3 which deals with the community benefits requirements sets out how a social value clause would work. It would require any State body, local authority or Department issuing a tender to take into account the benefits of awarding the contract to the local and national economy when assessing bids. My colleague, Deputy O'Brien, and I have met representatives of printing companies in Kildare, Dublin and Sligo, which have effectively been excluded from tenders for libraries due to contractual procurement requirements. This is a story repeated for much of the €8.5 billion the State spends each year on goods and services. Ireland ranks high in Europe in respect of the proportion of public goods and services procured outside the State. While it is a small open economy committed to the European Union, EU, it is not always possible to award contracts and tenders to Irish companies. The objective of this Bill is to achieve a level playing pitch. This will enable Irish companies to compete fairly alongside European businesses in line with the rules of the Single Market. The full adherence to EU regulations is an important point in light of the rise of protectionism which we have seen recently. The Bill follows EU precedent. Denmark has successfully introduced social value clauses, as have the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Austria and Belgium. I look forward to engaging with the Government and other parties to strengthen the legislation, address any issues with it and help to ensure it can deliver its objectives of empowering the Irish small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs, to compete fairly and fully in future.