The government's SME-friendly rhetoric has again been questioned, this time by suppliers bidding for the successor to the Becta schools IT framework.
Now under Crown Commercial Service (CCS), the incoming ICT for Education Framework has a predicted purse of £300m over four years.
Suppliers informed CRN that the deadline to submit tenders was 12pm today, two days after the original 17 December cut-off stated in the contract notice but only three weeks after they were first able to access the tender documents on CCS' eSourcing suite on 28 November.
Intention-to-award notifications are scheduled to be issued on 6 March 2015, while the final framework agreements will in theory be dished out to a maximum of 20 successful candidates on 24 March.
As part of the tender, suppliers were asked to bid for a fictional free school opening in September 2015, which was described as a "typical user scenario" for the framework. They are expected to supply the full range of ICT equipment and services including hardware, software, networks, peripherals, AV, user devices and mobile connectivity.
"If the government is trying to include the smaller man, they aren't going about it the right way," grumbled one supplier, who wished to remain anonymous.
"The framework is about providing a total solution, and I can't argue with that. The issue is the length of time we were given. The big boys have got whole departments that can bang out a tender in a couple of weeks, whereas for smaller firms like us the entire senior management team has been taken offline to produce these documents. We have been working nights and coming in fuzzy headed."
The supplier in question also grumbled that the documentation for the framework looked like it had been "rushed out" and lacked polish. This made the task of responding even tougher, he said.
Another supplier remarked that those bidding for RM1050, as it is known, would not have been helped by the fact the government is simultaneously tendering for several other large frameworks, including Network Services (RM1045) Technology Services (RM1058) and G-Cloud 6.
It is not the first time the government's SME-friendly credentials have come under the microscope in recent weeks. Last month, the boss of VAR CCL stepped forward to complain after he was confronted with a 92-page Invitation to Tender document for a relatively small £10,000 deal.
Some 25 suppliers made the cut for the 2010 Becta ICT Services Framework One. This includes the likes of Viglen, RM, Centerprise, Civica, Capita and XMA.
CCS had not responded to our request for comment as this story went to press.
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