The art of framework bids
If you’ve ever been involved in a bid to get onto a framework, you’ll know they’re a little different to the norm. For starters, the financial value of what you ‘win’ could be zero and you might find you’ve come joint first with several other bidders (sometimes hundreds). So what’s involved and what do you need to know?
What are frameworks and why are they used?
A framework comprises a description of common public sector requirements, a list of suppliers who have been evaluated as capable of delivering the requirements, and standardised contract terms. Frameworks controlled by the Crown Commercial Service, or managed in line with their regulations, are often divided into Lots, typically by product or service type, and have a maximum four-year term (except where there are exceptional circumstances). Where frameworks are divided into Lots, you can supply to one or more Lots or an entire framework.
Frameworks are used to save time by pre-assessing and agreeing terms, specifications and pricing in advance, making it simpler and quicker to procure from one or more viable supplier(s) when required, without having to undertake a full procurement exercise each time.
So, we can think of winning a place on a framework as qualifying for the World Cup: it’s an achievement to qualify but that doesn’t mean anything for the tournament itself – you’ve still got to win your matches to win the prize.
Once successful suppliers have been allocated to a framework, tenders close and new suppliers can’t join. The exception is a dynamic purchasing system (DPS). This is an agreement that allows suppliers to join and leave at any point.
Types of framework
Not all frameworks are the same. Some can be awarded to a single supplier and some to multiple suppliers.
Single supplier frameworks
As the name suggests, single supplier framework agreements are awarded to one company and then call-off contracts are awarded under it, provided that the orders remain within scope of the originally advertised requirement, estimated quantities and value.
These are more commonly used for B2B procurement, but they can be used in public sector procurement if the circumstances are deemed appropriate.
Multiple supplier frameworks
With multiple supplier frameworks, there are three call-off methods:
- A direct award without re-opening competition. Where the terms set out in the framework agreement are sufficiently precise, the buyer may apply the terms of the framework agreement and select the supplier for a particular requirement.
- Mini-competitions run between every supplier on the framework agreement capable of fulfilling the order. Mini-competitions between suppliers should not be used as a means of re-negotiating the key terms and conditions of the framework agreement, although they can be supplemented or refined for the particular requirements of the specific order during a mini-competition.
- A mixture of direct award and mini-competition.
How do you get on a framework?
The techniques for winning a place on a framework are the same as winning any public sector tender. Proven bidding practices apply, such as producing a compelling, competitive and customer-focussed proposal that’s compliant and high-scoring. That’s a given for any tender regardless of complexity or value.
Some framework procurements require you to pre-qualify, which usually involves providing evidence in the form of case studies and sometimes CVs. It can therefore be a good idea to have a library of pre-written case studies and CVs that are professionally written, reviewed, approved and maintained to draw from; saving time and allowing you to concentrate on any bespoke or more challenging aspects. Remember that pre-written content still needs to fit the requirement, so you will have to adapt it, but at least you have a good starting point.
If it’s a single stage procedure there’ll be a Selection Questionnaire (SQ) for you to provide information about your company, bidding model, financial standing, technical capability and compliance with any grounds for exclusion. There’ll also be an Award Questionnaire (AQ) with evaluated questions about your capability to provide the goods/services you’re bidding for.
In some cases, the tender may ask you to respond to task-scenarios, which are used as dummy taskings reflective of the sort of tenders published under the framework. This may also be costed and used as part of the financial evaluation.
It’s important when tendering to get on a framework to consider your commercial response. Negotiating specific clauses may not be allowed with the framework terms and conditions, including elements such as uncapped liabilities. Knowing your company’s risk appetite for this sort of commercial constraint is important, as is how you might limit your risk whilst remaining compliant.
If the buyer wishes to run a mini-competition for call-off contracts, then it will request successful framework suppliers to resubmit their technical and commercial proposal(s) against information specific to that tasking. Such competitions under the framework are based on the same terms as applied for the award of the framework agreement itself.
Should the buyer proceed with a mini-competition for the call-off contracts, then the supplier’s proposal will be scored against the call-off contract award criteria in competition with any other supplier under the Lot (if applicable) that has submitted a proposal. The supplier that achieves the highest consolidated score will be awarded the call-off contract for the specific tasking.
Framework contracts vs framework agreements
A “framework contract” is where a buyer is legally obliged to purchase, and a supplier is legally obliged to supply under the terms of the framework contract. Unlike “framework agreements”, whereby the buyer is not legally obliged to purchase anything. For example, framework contracts may include pre-agreed minimum order quantities that the buyer must place with the supplier. They may also include a maximum order quantity for a given price or period.
The value of frameworks
Of itself, a framework agreement has no financial value as there are no guarantees that a buyer will use the framework to buy anything or that they’ll buy from you. For a place on a framework to be worth anything, you must win work via the mini-competition call-offs.
Frameworks are often advertised with high estimated values, although bidders shouldn’t be seduced by this. The main reason for these very high values (beyond what might be expected) is the threat of legal challenge. If the actual value of orders placed under the framework agreement exceeds the estimate by a material amount, i.e. an amount that could have affected a supplier’s decision to tender or a supplier’s tender, then the framework agreement itself, or orders placed under it, could be challenged.
Ministry of Defence (MOD) and Crown Commercial Service (CCS) frameworks
As the biggest public procurement organisation in the UK, it’s no surprise that CCS is the primary user of framework agreements. Indeed, at the time of writing there are 107 live frameworks and 46 in its pipeline.
The MOD is also a big user of frameworks, and as we’re seeing with the DIPS (Digital and IT Professional Services) framework, there’s often collaboration between them and CCS. For example, management of the DIPS framework will transition from the MoD to CCS mid-way through its four-year term (although the MOD will remain as the contracting authority entitled to use the framework).
Other highlights specific to frameworks conducted under the Defence and Security Public Contract Regulations (DSPCR) include:
- The maximum term can be seven years rather than four
- Framework agreements must use the restricted, negotiated or competitive dialogue procedures (the open procedure doesn’t apply to the DSPCR)
- The number of framework suppliers you must intend to invite is a minimum of three
- The MOD requires its suppliers to fill in a “supplier statement of good standing” on an annual basis
- Prior to the award of a framework agreement under the DSPCR, buyers must apply the mandatory standstill rules. However, further standstill periods are not required when placing orders or tasks under the framework agreement although buyers may choose to do this voluntarily.
The future of frameworks
In its Green Paper ‘Transforming Public Procurement’ published in January 2021, the Cabinet Office (of which CCS is an executive agency), identified an aspiration to introduce a new option that allows for a longer maximum term and for a framework to be open for new suppliers to join at defined points.
- Open framework agreements of up to eight years with an initial (up to) three-year closed period. This would allow any supplier to submit a bid to join the framework at predetermined points. Buyers could open the framework up as many times as they wish during its term if this is stated in the call for competition.
- Closed framework agreements of up to four years duration. This would mean the market would be closed to suppliers other than those on the framework for a maximum of four years, offering a period of stability and reducing bureaucracy that may be appropriate in some situations.
Where to get practical help
If you’re considering bidding to win a place on a framework, then talk to BidCraft about how to approach it. We’ve recent practical experience of helping companies bid for and win places on national frameworks (including G-Cloud, Digital Outcome and Services, Management Consultancy 3 and DHSC) and we can share tips, coach, guide and lead you through the process.
Get in touch on this website.
- A searchable list of upcoming framework agreements. https://www.crowncommercial.gov.uk/agreements/upcoming
- A searchable list of live framework agreements. https://www.crowncommercial.gov.uk/agreements
- DSPCR guidance on frameworks. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-european-union-defence-and-security-public-contracts-regulations-dspcr-2011/dspcr-chapter-11-framework-agreements#what-are-framework-contracts
Crown Commercial Service
Ministry of Defence