In this series of posts we offer practical solutions to implement the recommendations of Constructing the Gold Standard, an Independent Review of Public Sector Construction Frameworks by Professor David Mosey .
Public procurement is evolving. We expect to see new legislation in 2023; draft legislation very soon. To assess the direction of travel, we have the Government response to consultation on the Procurement Green Paper. We will see improvements to both dynamic purchasing to create dynamic markets and framework contracting to create a new class of "open" frameworks that are kept up to date and fresh with the ability for new participants to join.
We expect to see further development from the Government consultation response. Now perhaps is the time for construction frameworks to seek to push the boundaries a little; to take inspiration on framework design from both the Constructing the Gold Standard report and from the indicated direction of travel in procurement reform?
So what might better procurement design look like? There are sound recommendations in the Constructing the Gold Standard report that will go a long way but perhaps not quite enough to optimise construction frameworks as a tool for better outcomes.
Currently frameworks are seen as having limited flexibility – they reflect the market at the point of their creation. There is therefore an inherent contradiction between four-year frameworks and a rapidly shifting market which sees regular supplier mergers and insolvencies in practice. Current framework pools are sealed soon after their creation, potentially encouraging supplier stasis by assuming that those making up the framework pool at the beginning will remain the most appropriate for any call-off during the framework's lifetime.
Here we address how to keep construction frameworks fresh over their lifetime and look beyond the recommendations of the report. Key is keeping frameworks fresh; to respond to the ever changing supply side of construction; to allow new members who meet transparent criteria to join at key stages of the framework's life and importantly to remove members who are simply not meeting framework requirements.
What might this look like? In practice we think that there is scope to go further than the Governments suggestion of open frameworks in the Government response to consultation on the Procurement Green Paper which suggests that "new suppliers should be given the opportunity to join the framework at least once during its term". Why not elevate the expectation; to take the best of a Dynamic Purchasing System (soon to be a dynamic market) and allow rather more regular new members?
The consultation response suggests that "contracting authorities will be able to suspend suppliers from being awarded further call-off contracts if any of the exclusion grounds apply". These very limited grounds seem hardly ambitious enough to keep framework operation fresh. What we really need is a mechanism that (fairly, proportionately and transparently) to hold framework members to key KPIs and ultimately to enable framework members who are not meeting stated performance thresholds to be removed.
So what might the key KPIs look like? Clearly social value; net zero and collaboration will be just the sort of area that both client bodies and policymakers will expect to see covered. Nothing here is completely new, many frameworks evaluate performance of framework members through called off contracts. Taking the opportunity of procurement reform and the Gold Standard report to push that little further to structure the framework to contain mechanisms that bring meaningful rigour can only give better results.
The government's Construction Playbook highlights the principle of effective contracting, advocating for the creation of a contracting environment that delivers "a sustainable, resilient and effective relationship between contracting authorities and the supply chain." This is currently not being achieved; the Gold Standard report has a recurrent finding of wasted time, confusion and duplication throughout existing frameworks.
Longer frameworks are suggested on the open frameworks model; moving to an 8 year period of operation. How will this provide a sensible procurement route in any fast changing market like construction unless a strong element of dynamic management is also provided for?
We suggest allocating a percentage of supplier slots to be fluid throughout the framework's lifetime, which will enable new challenger firms to join the pool and increase intra-supplier competition. Include an annual refresh point, that balances the opportunity with the value to the public sector. One of the aims of framework agreements is to "deliver demonstrable value for money"; accordingly allowing competent suppliers who meet entry requirements to join the potential pool for call-offs throughout the life of a project will have a beneficial impact for public bodies by disrupting the existing static framework pool. This aligns somewhat with the government's response to the Transforming Public Procurement consultation, in which it imagines a direct purchasing system with an unlimited lifetime where suppliers satisfying the qualification requirements may join at any time and contracts are awarded in a competitive 'second stage'.
The type of "dynamic framework" suggested is appropriate for the construction services industry; competition brought by a dynamic framework will encourage existing suppliers to offer more viable bids as well as align the pool more closely with the best in class solutions available in the construction market. Similarly, if mergers or insolvencies occur, having this margin to add new suppliers will allow the framework to be kept healthy.
The good news is that, as with the recommendations of Constructing the Gold Standard, many of the objectives are deliverable now within the mechanisms of a framework contract, but could be more widely delivered if upcoming procurement reform lifts the bar.
This blog was written with my colleague Hannah Jeckel
Open frameworks will provide contracting authorities with the flexibility to appoint new suppliers to the framework during its term.