Are Frameworks Doing Their Job? (Part 1)

In this first of two posts, Jon Milton, director of temporary labour supply specialist Comensura, looks at the future of public sector frameworks and considers if it’s time they started to evolve to improve their market relevance.

Run a news search on ‘public sector frameworks’ and you’ll find plenty of announcements about new frameworks and their successfully appointed suppliers. This suggests that private companies large and small are all desperate to do business with the public sector, so surely it’s a win-win situation for both sides, or is it?

There is no doubt that frameworks are well established and a key element of public sector procurement, but are they as effective as they should be and are they worth the effort that buying organisations and of course the bidding suppliers put into them? Moreover do they deliver the intended value back to the public purse, by successfully consolidating the sector’s buying power across a portfolio of best value, low risk and compliant suppliers?

Let’s consider some of these questions more closely:

  1. Is the frameworks landscape too complex and conflicting?

In spite of their obvious merits - compliant purchasing, access to a list of pre-vetted suppliers and pre-negotiated costs and T&Cs - frameworks can be a confusing option for public procurement specialists. There is a host of providers who supply specifically to the public sector; the choice is considerable, but does this huge range of framework options covering everything from water coolers to the supply of staff actually just act to further confuse time-strapped users already unsure of where to even begin? The answer is yes. Many people don’t really understand how frameworks operate or how to access what they really need. I would like to see framework providers respond to actual market need, rather than perceived market need to provide a clearer view of the landscape, making frameworks more accessible for public sector users.

  1. Do frameworks work for everything?

Yes, in the main I think they do, but when it comes to frameworks for complex services, this is where the waters get muddy. I think that when it comes to procurement of complex services such as temporary staff frameworks, the framework provider needs to understand the category fully first and then present a solution that properly takes into consideration the different requirements of its target audience. We have seen some frameworks issued with really quite vague ‘catch-all’ specifications that have no active level of buyer engagement behind them, which rely on the assumption that the buyer will run a further competition to determine their needs. The role of the framework should surely be make life easier for the buyer, rather than create additional work?

  1. Are frameworks as well utilised as they should be?

Some frameworks, let’s take G-Cloud for example, are extremely hig-profile and well publicised, but many aren’t, which leads me to wonder how well used the majority are if people don’t know they even exist. Procurement R&D is vital to help determine the framework market, as is customer and supplier feedback. To my mind, use of frameworks will only be maximised if they’re researched, designed, built and sold in exactly the same way a commercial product is brought to market.

In the second post in this series, I consider whether frameworks are worth the effort for the suppliers and if the selection criteria for suppliers to get on the list are done in the best interests of the public sector and the economy.

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First Voice

  1. alun@marketdojo:

    There is not only a vast array of frameworks but also a vast array of 3rd parties who have set up these frameworks all with different ways they are funded.

    In our opinion the only way to create real value and obtain the market price is to make more use of mini competitions. We were awarded a grant back in 2011 from the TSB (now Innovate UK) with one of the aims being to make it easier for public sector bodies to run eAuctions as the mini competition. Frameworks have clearly underperformed in the past and attention needs to be given to ensuring that competition is still being maintained.

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