By Tony Collins
The Cabinet Office has ended three framework procurements after an internal review, reports Government Computing.
Framework contracts have made it easy for buyers in central departments to prolong IT buying habits of the past, by ignoring new ideas, and by-passing SMEs and G-Cloud. They can use frameworks to choose known suppliers without going to a full open tender each time.
Now Bill Crothers, the government’s chief procurement officer says bold action is needed to save more money and attract more innovative suppliers.
He told Government Computing:
“After looking at the current frameworks in use, we’ve decided to cease the Application Development, Delivery and Support Service and Hosting Services procurements from today and Service Integration & Management Services will not be progressed through the framework route.
“Frameworks which are already operating effectively and delivering significant change such as the Public Services Network and G-Cloud provide a model for success and will continue.”
The Cabinet Office says fewer IT frameworks will attract a wider range of suppliers. Frameworks let buyers choose from a list of pre-approved suppliers. They will be allowed only where they are shown to deliver against the commercial ICT strategy and can attract businesses of all sizes.
Cabinet Office Parliamentary Secretary Chloe Smith said:
“Framework agreements only work if they deliver what they set out to deliver and drive the greatest competition from a wider range of suppliers, including SMEs.”
In 2010 Nigel Smith, who was then CEO of the Office of Government Commerce, said that nearly a third of everything government spends is on procurement. He spoke of the need for major changes, saying there was “massive duplication”. He added:
“We need shooting if we don’t make the changes.”
In 2011 Chris Chant who was then programme director at the Cabinet Office for G-Cloud, said something similar.
“The vast majority of government IT in my view is outrageously expensive, is ridiculously slow, or agile-less, is poor quality in the main and, most unforgivably I think, is rarely user-centric in any meaningful way at all.”
It can cost £50,000 to change one line of code, he added.
John Suffolk, when he was government CIO, spoke of “bucket-loads of cash” that can be saved by common IT systems, and eliminating duplication and disparate infrastructures.
So what has happened since? Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude and his senior officials have made some important changes. But government IT is an aircraft carrier whose rudders don’t move left or right, except by tiny amounts. Crothers and his procurement team can accept this or resolve to tackle the fundamentals.
Ceasing three framework contracts is moving the rudders of government IT a small amount but it’s a start. As politicians say: there is a lot more to do, and time is running out.
The reservoir of will to reform central government administration is nearly full at present. It may be running low by the time the next government comes to power.