There are no doubt clear benefits to the use of frameworks. Cutting the cost of each purchase of services, and saving time by calling off a framework, is certainly attractive. The use of multi-party frameworks is a key tool in the Government agenda for smarter collaborative procurement. So what are the key considerations that the purchaser of services should be taking on board when using frameworks?
1. Commercial sense check. Every purchasing decision needs to be considered on its own merits. This means checking whether a purchase can fit into an existing national framework or a specific local arrangement, but also that the commercial terms captured by the framework remain on market and that the terms and conditions that you would be using are appropriate. This involves a critical analysis of the standard terms and conditions that apply to a framework and assessing whether or not they are appropriate to your own needs. They may never be perfect, but they need to work. The pricing on a framework will reflect the market at the time the framework was let – that might well be to your advantage – but as we have seen over the last two years, the price of services and supplies can go down as well as up.
2. Length of call off. Restrictions on the length of a framework itself and the consequent restrictions on call offs need to be considered. A four-year restriction applies to frameworks; however there is no provision in the UK restricting the length of the individual call off. In assessing the length of any call off it will be necessary to consider the scope of the original OJEU setting out the value of the services, the expected length of call off contracts and also the history of how the framework has been used to date.
3. Principles of fairness and equal treatment apply to both the establishment of the original framework and also the individual call offs. This includes the need to ensure that the framework is not being operated in a way that is anti-competitive. The recent amendments to the procurement regulations mean that a framework and any call off contracts can be set aside independently of each other.
When preparing the tender documents and framework agreement the public sector must give very careful consideration to the mechanism for call offs – both frameworks that can be called off automatically and also those where mini competitions will be operated. Structuring the award criteria for a framework and any subsequent call offs must meet the requirements of the regulations and be flexible enough to cope.
4. Collaboration in procurement has clear benefits for the public sector as they seek to secure better value. To comply with the procurement rules it is necessary to identify other parties in the OJEU by name or by class. Down the line the other bodies can choose whether or not to draw down services under the framework, taking into account the scope of service and supplies and the terms and conditions that you have agreed. To secure the supplier's best pricing, it is necessary to demonstrate through the competition that the prospect of other entities using the framework is real and not just a nod to the current buzz in procurement. So plan and execute your collaborations well in advance.
Frameworks reduce the cost and time of procurements for both parties and the benefits are there to be accessed by all. However the use of frameworks must be in the context of a procurement strategy and any framework put in place needs to be carefully crafted so that it is fit for purpose and does not place unexpected or unnecessary restrictions on the procuring party.
Frameworks can be used to put in place arrangements to buy the full range of goods, works and services. Typically the purchaser will have a need to buy the same type of works or services over a period of time but at uncertain times or volumes. The framework allows a number of suppliers to be in place to supply those services as and when required on an agreed call off basis. Common frameworks are seen for routine maintenance and repairs works to a public bodies property stock be that housing, schools or other public buildings or regular consultancy services such as legal services.
Across the UK, frameworks have been used in the NHS under the ProCure 21 initiative to procure capital works across the NHS estate and Buying Solutions the national procurement partner in the UK offers a full range of frameworks for the use of public bodies on a national and regional basis.