Calling all consultants! The Government needs you .. well, maybe..

The Government Procurement Service (GPS) launched the procurement last week for a new consulting services framework for central government - but also to be available to all public bodies. It was launched with some fanfare - it's not often a contract of this nature gets featured in the national press! However, it’s been a tough last 18 months for consulting firms who major on the public sector, as consulting spend is way down and there has been a fair bit of criticism of the industry. But this contract recognises that there still is a need.

After the first couple of Whitehall "central buying" contracts went to large suppliers, we saw the recent travel contract split between a large supplier and an SME. And as we reported back in the summer, it was clear that the consulting framework was one where GPS would be looking to demonstrate the "supporting SMEs" agenda.

Certainly, at first sight, the lotting strategy is positive for smaller firms. Splitting the requirement into 15 lots plays to more specialist firms, although it is not quite the innovation it was made out to be in the publicity – the previous MCAS consultancy framework had 13 lots. The lotting also combines some multi-disciplinary and strategic lots with more specialist functional areas (including finance and audit)  – a good structure in our opinion. There are however a range of other professional services areas not covered by this procurement, from project management to legal, to technical support and consulting. Other procurement processes and frameworks will cover these.

The larger number of suppliers who will be awarded a place on each lot here is helpful to smaller firms. The lots will have 10 – 20 suppliers, compared to the 8 or so on MCAS. However, this does mean of course that the second stage “mini-competitions” to choose between the successful providers on the larger lots are not going to be so “mini”!

That will make the framework less attractive to potential users, particularly if they don’t have much procurement resource. It’s also interesting to see that the “Home Office Procurement Centre of Excellence based in Newport will, on behalf of government departments, undertake all “further competitions” .. in order to maximise spot-buying efficiencies and unit price savings”

So how will other Departments feel about the Home Office choosing their consultants for them? I can see tensions there unless the Centre of Excellence are very organised in terms of getting stakeholder involvement in the selection process.

Combine that with the fact that this framework is aimed only at assignments of between £100K and £2 million value, and the business case for putting in the effort needed to compete may not be very powerful for some providers. I was also amused by the comment that "the number of PQQ questions has been reduced from 120 to 77".  The only possible response to that is "thank heavens for small mercies". It is still quite a task to bid.

To be fair, David Shields and his team face real difficulties. They want to be slicker, reduce the burden on potential suppliers and so on - and yet getting on this framework will be important for many firms, unsuccessful firms will look at challenging, so you just can't afford to take too many short cuts. There are still questions around data security that many SMEs will struggle with – but we all know how much the press love it when a consultant loses a laptop with some public data on it. So you cannot be too cavalier.

A partner from a major consulting firm said last week he was impressed by the overall design of the PQQ and felt it showed a good degree of understanding. There are more pass / fail questions to simplify matters, and there is a lot of weight on providing relevant and convincing case studies and examples, which don't have to be public sector - another positive. Consortia are encouraged, although you can also see that GPS are trying to make sure there is some substance to them rather than people merely suing them to game the system to get higher marks!

Coming back to SMEs, it will be interesting to see the quality / price weightings in the tender evaluation process – not yet disclosed I believe. A low weighting for price will favour the larger firms who tend to be more expensive than smaller. A high weighting on price would be THE easiest way of ensuring small firms could do well. But GPS may remember the framework let some 5 or 6 years ago where price was weighted heavily, but Buying Solutions ended up with frameworks full of small firms that customers were hesitant to actually use!

And on that note, we won't be featuring this tender much from now, as we will have a personal interest in it. So you'll probably experience radio silence from us until the final announcements are made...

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Voices (5)

  1. Paul Keen:

    Agree with all the reservations around potential size and cost of mini competitions here. How strong is the central government mandation; and how effective will the cross Whitehall stakeholder engagement be? Newport sounds awfully remote but great to be proved wrong.

  2. Life:

    And on that last comment, I recall that following the SME success on ICT Catalist (the framework to which you refer) it was only a few months tops before the completely unheralded and brand new MDC framework for the same but broader scoped services, replete with £6M minimum turnover requirement, was introduced – hardly enough time for “hesitancy” from anyone as things turned out. I’m sure a lot of the big clients were disappointed not to have their favourite big firms placed, and of course so were the big firms who (had tried but) were unsuccessful in the first competition…. in such regards it is sometimes hard to tell many apart. So back to the status quo and “usual price weightings” pretty sharpish as things turned out.

    Of course, we don’t live in a world where being a favoured preference could ever be a legitimate criteria for evaluation – in such a world one could envisage for example national referendums on global issues being rerun until the “right” result is arrived at – and where would that lead? As Captain Mainwaring would say, I think we’re wandering into the realms of fantasy Jones….

  3. Final Furlong:

    This is completely flawed from the outset. It’s a framework contract (again) and that in itself will be a restraint on what is a dynamic, innovative marketplace. Same old, same old….

  4. flog:

    Frameworks with about 8 named firms are not used as much as they could/should be because the CAs doesn’t want to run a mini-comp with 8, so are they likely to run a mini-comp with up to 20 – probably not – unless, being cynical, it’s coming to the end of the financial year and time is running out.

    Coming from the other side, as an SME/OBP that does sometimes get on to frameworks, my experience is that within the mini-competitions (when they do happen) the actual response rate from the listed companies is often less than 50% which leads to two questions:
    – why go to the effort of getting on to the framework if you’re not going to participate and try to win any business? Maybe the hope is that the CA ‘forgets’ to use the FA and simply goes directly to their ‘preferred’ firm that’s on the FA (using the FA as their justification for the provider’s selection); and
    – if firms get on to the FA and then don’t participate in the mini-competitions – how unfair is that to those that were ‘below the line’ and didn’t get on – and would willingly participate when opportunities arise?

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