Thursday, 20 June 2019

Questions (5)

Joan Burton


5. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans to ensure the Office of Government Procurement revises its tendering processes to allow for the purchase of carbon neutral products for use within State offices and buildings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25710/19]

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Oral answers (11 contributions) (Question to Public)

Has the Minister's Department plans to ensure the Office of Government Procurement revises its tendering processes to allow for the purchase of carbon-neutral products for use within State organisations and buildings and for use by organisations funded by the State? Although the State is probably the biggest purchaser of materials for projects, we have no guidelines on carbon neutrality.

I apologise for being a little delayed. I was opening a conference.

The Government supports the move towards more green public procurement and recognises that the public service must demonstrate its commitment to sustainable development and use its influence to persuade others of the changes required to reduce our collective impact on the environment.

Work to promote the incorporation of social and environmental considerations in public procurement is being progressed by the Office of Government Procurement, OGP, under the national public procurement policy framework, which is the overarching policy framework for public procurement in Ireland. Under this framework, proposals to implement environmental considerations in public procurement are being developed through the cross-departmental social considerations advisory group, chaired by the OGP.

The Minister and I have been in discussions with our colleague the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment on green public procurement in the context of our climate action plan. We have agreed that the incorporation of green criteria into public procurement will be achieved in a structured manner, with progressive implementation focusing on areas that have the greatest impact.

In this regard, the OGP, in co-operation with the Department of Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, is currently developing a circular for Departments and offices on promoting the use of environmental and social considerations in public procurement. The circular will direct Departments and offices to consider including environmental criteria in their procurement, where such clearly defined, quantifiable, verifiable and measurable criteria have been developed by the Department of Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

An overarching objective of all public procurement is the achievement of value for money. In implementing environmental considerations in public procurement, it is crucial that an approach is adopted that will further Government policy while also ensuring a competitive market place where suppliers can compete aggressively, resulting in the desired pricing outcome. In areas where the market is not yet sufficiently competitive, a phased approach to environmental considerations in public procurement may be necessary to encourage the emergence of new suppliers with innovative solutions. Care should be taken to ensure the addition of environmental considerations to public contracts is achieved in a manner that does not mitigate against small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs as they may not be in a position to bear the additional costs or administrative burden.

I believe the Minister of State will acknowledge that his response is largely a repeat of an answer given previously by the Minister, Deputy Donohoe. Since the Minister's answer was given some time ago, has anything happened? The Government has gone on a bus to Grangegorman and has launched another long document, with 200 headings. This is all about process. May I give the Minister of State some examples?

Is there a cost-benefit analysis, on a carbon emissions basis, on the BusConnects project? There are changes proposed to the bus services in Dublin. Some are very acceptable and others are not. The proposal involves the destruction of a great number of trees, which clean the air. It also involves significant losses, potentially of gardens. Hedging is the most effective resource in reducing asthma in children. The of State's response is a repeat of one given by the Minister, Deputy Donohoe. Can the Minister of State identify and give us some examples of the actual progress he is making?

I can, actually. The concept of social considerations, of which environmental considerations are part, was part of an initiative by our Department some time ago before the recent discussion on the climate change agenda was ramped up with the publication of the action plan on climate change. On foot of a visit to my office by a former Member of the Oireachtas, Ms Kathleen O'Meara, who is from the Deputy's party and who is head of Rehab, I wanted to try to advance the concept of social considerations contained in the EU directive, particularly in the area of disabilities. It is in this context that my Department established a working group with the Department of Health, the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. In the development of policy in this area, we have to be very mindful. My interaction with Deputies on all sides of the House on procurement policy invariably comes back to the protection of the SME sector, in addition to efficiency and value for money.

It is something we must be mindful of in the context of the directive. We are working through it. It is something we take very seriously. On the specific matter raised by the Deputy -----

The Minister of State will have a further minute to answer.

I am trying to open a conversation with the Minister of State so that we might discuss examples. For instance, the Government is ordering six vehicles which will take some account of carbon but there is no other concrete example, although those six vehicles may be followed by 600 others in the next couple of years.

When the Minister of State goes to the self-service restaurant in Leinster House to have a cup of tea or coffee, he might look to find the green bins that would allow people to recycle their waste there. We can start with very small examples that will help people change. Over the last ten to 20 years, many lighting systems in public buildings have been changed so that when a room is vacated the lights go off. Those are the kinds of examples I seek. I can appreciate from the Minister of State's answer that discussions are only starting.

Last night, I was at a community centre with a couple of hundred people-----

The Deputy's time is up. I thank the Deputy.

It is threatened with closure. It is in Hartstown in my constituency. Its ceiling lights are deemed by everybody to be the most polluting kind of public lighting.

The Deputy will have more time later. Please.

Will the Minister of State please give concrete examples of what the Government proposes?

We are making great strides on public lighting across the country. Deputies will have seen this in the replacement of public street lighting which is now using LEDs which is far more efficient. These are cropping up all over the country. I cannot comment on the specific matters raised by the Deputy earlier. I cannot comment on the hedges because I do not have the details.

From her time in government the Deputy will appreciate that we must be very careful that we do not give a monopoly-type situation an unfair advantage in procurement. That would be very unfair. On transport, we are purchasing buses from an existing framework which must be concluded before we may move on to a new one. However, Irish Rail has already committed to the procurement of carriages. We are moving to a new agenda.

Returning to social considerations, we are doing a lot of work in this area. I welcome the opportunity to have that dialogue but I have already written to all spokespersons for examples of how we can continue the procurement reform agenda in the context of the EU directive. I would look forward to any kind of engagement on this.