As the Deputy is probably aware, the National Procurement Service (NPS) is already supporting Small and Medium Business Enterprises (SMEs) to participate in public sector procurement competitions through its education and guidance strategies. All of the NPS tender documents explicitly seek to encourage the participation of SMEs in competitions, by encouraging them to explore the possibilities of forming relationships with other SMEs or with larger enterprises.
In terms of public procurement reform, it has been estimated that €9 billion is spent by public bodies annually on the procurement of supplies and services. My colleague Minister Howlin has highlighted the importance of ensuring that the public sector is achieving maximum value for money and operational efficiency in its approach to public procurement. Centralising the procurement of commonly used goods and services can deliver significant benefits which include: cash savings; administrative savings from reduced duplication of tendering; greater purchasing expertise; improved consistency and enhanced service levels.
In addition, given the financial constraints within which we must all now work, cost reductions and savings can go some way to helping Exchequer funded bodies, such as schools, manage within reducing financial budgets.
Given the potential benefits that can realised across the public sector, public procurement is one of the major projects of key strategic importance under the Government's Public Service Reform Plan. The Public Service Reform Plan, published in November 2011, provides for the development of a new policy framework for procurement. This work is now being led by the newly appointed Chief Procurement Officer, Paul Quinn. Under his leadership a new national procurement office for the public sector is being established. Paul is currently working with officials across the public sector to put in place new sectoral and centralised procurement arrangements.
I do appreciate the concerns being raised by school supply companies and I have asked relevant officials here in the Department, who are coordinating procurement reform in the Education and Training sector, to take these concerns into consideration in the context of the work being undertaken on procurement reform.