Belfast Telegraph

Assembly can help economy

By Robin Swann

A motion being debated in the Assembly today, brought by the Ulster Unionist Party, is significant because it is the first on the subject of the economy this term.

After a difficult summer, dominated by headlines on parades, protests and policing, and with media focus now firmly on the cross-party talks with Richard Haass, we are delighted to return to consider what will be a central component of any economic recovery – how government procurement on goods, services and infrastructure projects can be carried out most effectively.

As chair of the employment and learning committee at Stormont, I remain concerned at the levels of youth unemployment. More than one in five of our 18-25-year-olds is unemployed and that is higher than the rest of the United Kingdom average.

If our public procurement processes are as accessible as possible to local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), then there will be a positive impact on job-creation.

Recent research from the Federation of Small Business showed that nine out of 10 unemployed people finding jobs do so through starting up their own business, or going to work in one.

We should remember that public procurement is spending public money, after all, so it is extremely important, where possible, that it achieves more than the purchasing of a service.

We believe it should require tendering organisations to demonstrate how that spend can maximise local social impact.

The social economy can flourish during hardship by reaching those most in need and bringing about positive social change through re-investment of profit back into local com

munities.

More awareness of, and opportunities for, the third sector must be created and public procurement can offer that.

During the debate, we will also call on DEL Minister Stephen Farry to ensure there is sufficient protection for subcontractors.

I know only too well of the effect on owners, employees and their families from the experience of the Patton Group's financial difficulties in my own North Antrim constituency.

 

Robin Swann MLA is chair of the Assembly's employment and learning committee

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