That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for the inclusion of social clauses in all public procurement contracts, to provide opportunities for unemployed persons and apprentices, to ensure equality in the workplace in the carrying out of public contracts and to provide for sustainable development.
This Bill proposes to legislate for the inclusion of social clauses in all large public procurement contracts worth in excess of €1 million. The State spends approximately €9 billion annually on goods and services and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform recently established a new procurement body, the Office of Government Procurement, which will have sole responsibility for all public procurement. To date, the Government's value-for-money strategy for procurement has focused solely on the bottom line and overlooked the potential benefits that can accrue for small businesses and wider society from Government spending.
EU directives are often used by Ministers as an argument against social clauses. However, EU rules do not preclude social clauses and such community gain mechanisms are used in other jurisdictions. The Government argues that the inclusion of social clauses will displace existing workers in companies that are awarded public contracts. Although this is not the case in practice, we have listened to the Government's concerns by including a provision that contractors must comply with fair employment, equality of treatment and anti-discrimination principles as set out in employment law. Sinn Féin has successfully pursued the inclusion of social clauses in public contracts in the North of Ireland. The former Minister for Regional Development, Conor Murphy, insisted that social clauses be written into major road building contracts in order to provide apprenticeships and jobs to the long-term unemployed. There is no reason such an approach cannot be rolled out on an all-island basis.
This Government is embarking on new capital projects, including the school building programme. These capital projects provide an opportunity to use public moneys to make investments that have real societal returns. Departments are already including social clauses in public contracts but they are doing so in an ad hoc manner and on a small scale. We need to arrive at a point where social clauses are attached to all large capital projects so that public money is used more smartly, more efficiently and in a manner that allows citizens, who are the real investors, get the benefit of public spending.