Public Services > Central Government

Will Technology Services 2 changes open up public sector procurement to SMEs?

Published 06 November 2017

Public sector frameworks will only be successful if they give buyers what they need, says Fordway managing director Richard Blanford

 

With five major central government frameworks scheduled between May 2018 and 2019, there is a need for their designers to learn from the innovations in the recent TS2 framework that make it significantly better for both buyers and vendors.

The government continues to stress its commitment to SMEs, promising that 33% of central government procurement spend will go to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), directly or via the supply chain, by 2022. Although its ability to hit this target has recently been challenged by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), progress is slowly being made through the use of frameworks such as G-Cloud.

Each new iteration of these frameworks has made small changes based on buyer and vendor feedback. However, September’s Technology Services 2 (TS2) framework has gone well beyond the usual incremental changes and brought in significant innovations which I believe herald a step change in public procurement. If this new approach is replicated in future frameworks, buyers should find them much more appropriate to their needs and SMEs will finally be able to bid on a level playing field for contracts for which they are qualified.

TS2 covers specialist services ranging from managing desktops to replacing entire systems. It is complementary to G-Cloud, but can also be used separately. Up to £3bn is expected to be spent through the agreement, and this publication reported that CCS estimates it could help public bodies save more than £180m over four years.

One of the major innovations in TS2 is that call-off contracts can be from two years to a maximum of seven years, with no further OJEU process needed. This is vital for larger projects and any which involve bespoke development, as they need a longer period of time for the purchaser to obtain the required return on investment. It’s something we first called for in G-Cloud 7 in 2015 based on feedback from our customers, who pointed out that migrating onto a new service can take at least half the time allowed for under G-Cloud’s then two year maximum contract for larger environments.  This gave too short a period to realise the savings and hence made it less cost effective to move to cloud, which defeated the main object of the framework.  We’re pleased to say CCS has listened and G-Cloud agreements can now be extended up to four years.

A second innovation is that TS2 has fewer, more flexible Lots than the frameworks it replaces. TS1 had a total of eleven Lots, which meant unless a project was extremely small or limited in scope it normally spanned two or more of them. Suppliers could only bid for contracts if they were in every Lot in that framework, so small suppliers who might only be on three or four Lots out of the eleven found themselves unable to bid for many contracts for which they were amply qualified.

In contrast TS2 has just four Lots, which can be summarised as Strategy and Design; Transformation; Operations; and Major Projects, which is subdivided into Official and above Official. This makes the framework much less prescriptive about what is involved in a project, and enables many more suppliers to bid where they have the required expertise.

Thirdly, TS2 opens up the market further by changing the qualification process. With previous frameworks only a set number of suppliers – typically six to eight – would be appointed to each Lot. Everyone else, no matter how good their submission, was excluded. With TS2, your submission simply has to exceed the stated requirements for you to be appointed to the framework. In other words, if you are ‘over the bar’ then you are in. The result is that 155 companies are on TS2, rather than just a few large IT contractors. This gives public sector buyers a much wider choice and hopefully provides more opportunity for innovation as well as spreading the government’s IT budget more widely.

TS2 is by no means perfect. We’d like to see the next iteration include features such as long-listing and short-listing and a better search capability. But it is a major step forward and I’m hopeful that buyers who try it will find that it is a very effective way of finding IT suppliers and obtaining the right balance of innovation and risk.

Richard Blanford is managing director of Fordway








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