The government has issued a new timetable for its £300m ICT Services for Education framework after the outcome was delayed by a "high level of interest".
Crown Commercial Services (CCS) informed suppliers on Friday it now intends to dish out Intention to Award notifications on 24 March – 18 days later than originally planned – with the framework now not set to commence until 14 April.
This pushes the procurement, a successor to the old Becta framework, perilously close to the pre-election "purdah" period, which will kick in on 30 March, six weeks before Britain goes to the polls.
In a statement to CRN, CCS said it had received a "high level of interest in this procurement", which asked suppliers to mock up a bid for a fictional free school opening in September 2015 as part of their responses.
The made-up school, owned by a trust that already manages 15 state and independent schools and that is "fully behind a BYOD concept", represents a "typical user scenario" for the framework, CCS said.
James Penny, solutions director at education supplier European Electronique, said he understood that the change in emphasis from box shifting to end-to-end solutions meant CCS had to take its time to get it right.
"We're really happy the framework was looking at cloud computing and how groups of schools can work together," he said. "They got a lot of responses and are taking their time to look at them properly."
The fact that David Cameron recently pledged to open 500 more free schools if the Conservatives retain power makes the framework potentially even more lucrative than its £300m predicted purse, onlookers remarked.
One supplier, speaking anonymously, said: "These will be newly formed and relatively well-funded schools which all require IT solutions and will probably go through this framework."
Some smaller suppliers had previously complained the framework favoured larger competitors due to the complexity of the bids. News that the outcome would be delayed was first announced by CCS 10 days ago.
It's clear that CCS got more responses than it expected but our sources say the framework's outcome may also have been delayed by a clash between CCS and the Department of Education over how many suppliers make the grade, with the maximum being 20.
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