The scope of frameworks
Frameworks for government are important. They create a forum in which companies can set out their pitch for what they can do for government. They allow the government to undertake a certain amount of vetting of those companies. And they reduce the bureaucracy associated with government’s procurement.
Necessarily, their scope is limited. The scope of the framework is clearly defined. Companies specify their competencies against that scope, and this allows the public sector to buy services within that scope via the framework. It all works rather nicely.
However, risk is introduced when that scope is stretched.
Let’s say a framework is geared around a specific subject matter, cloud computing, for example. And let’s say that in being accepted onto the framework, a company demonstrates its competence in this area.
Now let’s say that a government organisation seeks expertise in a different subject matter, the provision of school meals for example. And let’s say it looks on the framework, and decides to go with the aforementioned company to provide its school meals, predominantly because it seems to offer good value for money.
There are two issues here. First, if the company is not very good at providing school meals, where do we go? The framework offered a level of comfort and protection. The companies that are on it have shown a level of competence in cloud computing. But they have shown no such ability in cookery.
Second, what if there’s another company that’s top dog in the school meals world. They make school meals that kids rave about, with locally-sourced ingredients at a price that has to be seen to be believed.
They see the business being awarded within the cloud computing framework. And, rightly, they say “hang on a minute”. This second company had read the terms of the cloud computing framework and dismissed it outright. “We don’t do cloud computing. We’re good at cooking food for kids. How could we possibly benefit from being listed on there?”
The example above is an extreme one for illustrative purposes. (Funnily enough, this specific example was presented to me earlier today by a Cabinet Office employee. They suggested that if the above deal represented good value for money, what was the issue?)
What are your thoughts? Should frameworks be stretched beyond their initial intent and their advertised scope to enable potential savings to the taxpayer? Or should their scope be carefully policed to ensure that companies are not awarded business unfairly at the expense of others; and that government doesn’t do business with companies ill-equipped to meet their requirements?