The government's Digital Outcomes and Specialists (DOS) framework needs a filter to stop inappropriate contracts reaching the marketplace, according to public sector supplier DXW.
A few months on, the framework has come in for criticism for allowing inappropriate tenders to go up for public offering.
One contract in particular came in for much criticism on Twitter for requiring the successful bidder to use one company's propriety software, therefore seemingly ruling out all bidders other than that particular company.
Harry Metcalfe, managing director at DXW, explained that a number of unsuitable tenders have been placed on the framework over recent weeks, leading him to suspect that some buyers aren't clued up enough on how the framework should be used.
"There is quite a lot of those things that make it look like the framework is being used by people who don't have enough guidance on how it is meant to be used," he said.
"There's one example of things coming out with very propriety technology being specified as required - which was the problem with this one - there are ones where the list of things you have to know about the buying company is so long and detailed that it creates a strong impression that they won't choose anyone but the incumbent supplier.
"There are things that are described as outcomes but are nothing of the kind. There was one a couple of weeks ago for what was essentially a second-line support team for someone's internal IT - that was being described as delivering a beta for a digital outcome, which is just ridiculous."
Crown Commercial Service (CCS) did not directly respond when CRN enquired about contracts with specific requirements going up for tender, but said in a statement: "Crown Commercial Service frameworks are designed to make it easier than ever for SMEs to do business with the public sector."
It also pointed out that 1,900 SME suppliers use the framework, and that the breadth of skills available through the framework allows public sector organisations to pick the services they want to purchase.
Mark Elkin, director of consultancy firm New View Market Services, explained that while such specific demands can be a frustration for suppliers, buyers outlining the specific services that they need makes it easier for suppliers to pick out tenders for which they are suitable.
"If that is one of [a buyer's] prerequisites and it happens to be that there is only one supplier in the UK, then that is closing things off," he said.
"But on the other hand, from a supplier point of view I'd know not to waste my time, so at least the requirement is being scoped and being explained - it cuts two ways and it benefits them."
Expanding on the framework's problems, Metcalfe said DOS could benefit from a form of gatekeeping to make sure that only valid tenders are made available for public bidding.
"As far as I'm aware, at the moment there is no gating process," he said. "A buying team can come along, write an opportunity and put it on the marketplace. I don't think there is a step for someone involved in the CCS or GDS [Government Digital Service] to look at that opportunity and make sure it's appropriate for the framework, compliant with the service standards, and that it's a suitable opportunity to go online.
"At the moment the consequence of not having that process is that things are being advertised on the Digital Marketplace which couldn't actually be delivered in accordance with the government's technology code of practice which all suppliers need to honour in order to join the framework. It doesn't quite stack up."
New View Market's Elkin claimed that while a gateway monitored by GDS or CCS would be effective, the government doesn't currently have the resources to make this a reality.
"It would be beneficial, but it is maybe not a priority at this moment in time," he said.
"The government has plenty of other things to look at as they organise themselves to leave the European community.
"If they have to look through every tender to assure that everything is valid, it will heap on bureaucratic costs from the budget that could have gone elsewhere."
Some of these contracts could, however, be finding their way onto the framework because taking business direct to suppliers is too difficult for some public sector organisations, Metcalfe explained. He said he would advocate some contracts being taken direct, providing that adequate due diligence is carried out, the price is acceptable, and all the details of the contract are published online for public scrutiny.
"My feeling has always been that, subject to a good set of checks and balances in government, if a buying team know exactly what they want, they know who can do it and it's not too expensive, they should just be able to direct award to that supplier," he said.
"I understand why at the moment that direct award process is made so difficult that most people don't do it, but the consequence of that is that things go out to procurement where the buying team are 75 to 85 per cent sure who they're going to award the contract to before the process has even started. That's just a waste of everyone's time."
Despite some of his concerns, Metcalfe said the GDS and CCS are in a strong position to keep improving the framework, having eradicated the problems from its predecessor, the Digital Services framework.
"There was a bad patch a few years ago after it was decided to move this work off the G-Cloud framework," he explained.
"The Digital Services framework was a complete catastrophe and the work that GDS and CCS did to put together the DOS framework is fantastic work, and I think it's very well structured, very well intentioned and very well designed; what it's not quite yet is very well used and getting that bit sorted out is the next big challenge that needs to be addressed.
"I have no doubt at all that GDS and CCS between them will be able to do that."
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