Small local businesses are being urged to bid for the services put out by Newry, Mourne and Down Council.
Council are to be asked to host a number of information sessions across the district to encourage and support small local businesses in the procurement process for its services.
Sinn Féin Councillor Róisín Mulgrew and her party colleagues will be raising the issue at the next Strategy, Policy and Resources Committee meeting.
“Whilst ensuring that all council tenders and contract represent good value for money, there is absolutely no reason why this value cannot be met by our smaller local traders who live, work and create employment on a very local level,” explained councillor Mulgrew.
“The importance of public procurement contracts to local businesses cannot be understated and it is vital that local firms, particularly smaller ones, are given help and advice on how to tender for public contracts and know what is required of a successful bidder”.
The Sinn Féin elected representative continued: “As a party Sinn Fein recognises the vital role played by small businesses within our economy.
“The current procurement process is too complicated and many feel not inclusive enough.
“We will request the Council to arrange workshops throughout the Council area which will go through all of the relevant information including how tenders will be advertised, the type of information sought from tenderers, the time-scales involved and how service providers can add their details to the Council’s mailing list.”
The former Council chairperson concluded: “[The Council] is currently involved in a number of major projects including capital build projects.
“It is important that all local businesses have the opportunity to bid for this work to ensure transparency and value for money for ratepayers.
“We have many skilled service providers in this District so it is fitting that they have an equal opportunity to apply for these often lucrative council contracts.”
SDLP councillor Pete Byrne added that as a relatively new councillor “I was keen to educate myself on the procurement process after I received complaints from several small local businesses about the lack of access to Council contracts”.
He continued: “To ensure fairness for businesses within our district, it is important that they are provided with the information and know how on the tendering process so that they can maximise their chances of securing contracts.’
“I was disappointed to find the limited scope for smaller businesses to win council contracts as the system currently gives an edge to larger companies.
“What is particularly infuriating is that once these large companies secure contracts, they then subcontract parts to smaller businesses.
“This effectively creates a monopoly in which large companies control and benefit from Council contracts to basically manage projects while subcontracting to small firms to carry out the work. This is an unnecessary level of bureaucracy that diminishes the value for money for the ratepayer.
“While there is a commitment to hold information sessions for local businesses at the start of the next Council term, I will be calling for these to be held before Christmas to ensure they are well equipped to apply for upcoming capital works.
“Smaller businesses within our district need to be encouraged to pool their skills and trades together in joint bids for contract work which will give them a better chance of securing bids. This is just one of a number of suggestions I will be putting to the next Strategy Policy and Resources Committee next month.’
“As always, I will ensure that criteria are scrutinised and amended appropriately to ensure fairness. That is why I have asked for papers of all tenders to be tabled at the Council’s SPR Committee, with a desire to see a system where different tenders are sought.
“It is important that we as Councillors provide a voice for local businesses who contribute massively to the development of services through rates in this district. We have a duty to scrutinise, debate and find a fairer way forward for local business.”