The heavily criticised Digital Services Framework (DSF) has been extended after the government admitted it is facing delays organising its successor.
The first iteration of DSF was been widely criticised by suppliers which recently joined forces to slam the scheme in a bid to improve future iterations. They claimed the way the framework tenders for projects according to an individual's capabilities instead of a company's entire offering was "flawed".
DSF was set up in 2013 as part of the government's aims to become "digital by default" and encourage more SMB suppliers to work with the public sector. It currently sits under the Digital Marketplace umbrella alongside G-Cloud.
The first iteration of DSF was due to expire on 31 March to be replaced by DSF 2, but this will no longer happen.
"We've had over 280 suppliers bid, with over 85 per cent [being] SMBs, which is a great response from the market," the Cabinet Office said. "The evaluation is taking a little longer than planned as we want to ensure that we select high-quality suppliers."
According to the revised timetable the government set out for DSF 2, suppliers will be told provisionally whether they have been successful in their bids on 1 May, ahead of confirmed award notices going out on 19 May. Services will be available to buyers on DSF 2 from 1 June.
Managing director at DSF supplier DXW Harry Metcalfe – who was one of the suppliers who recently spoke out about the framework – said the news was not a surprise.
"If you have an onerous, long-winded [application] process, it is not a surprise that evaluating it is onerous and long winded as well," he said. "We need to get away from this kind of old-school assessment process because it just doesn't scale. It is painful for everyone."
The Cabinet Office said the extra time it will take to evaluate the submissions will ensure it picks the best suppliers, but Metcalfe was not convinced.
"I understand their aspiration but I don't have confidence that this process will result in the selection of the highest-quality suppliers even if it is done really well," he said.
"There is more to a supplier than the contents of a written document and by constraining the way responses are made in the way DSF 2 did, you can only evaluate suppliers according to a very narrow selection of criteria.
"I think they have come up with a process which is an awful lot of work – it is an awful lot of work for us, it is an awful lot of work for them, it is going to result in an awfully broken thing being awfully broken for longer, and then the release of a new awfully broken thing! All the ducks are swimming in the pond with their feet flapping wildly but not going anywhere."
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