Contract awards can be made much more quickly and simply using framework agreements and they are already used extensively throughout the public sector. They were originally introduced around 15 years ago to ease the administration and cost burden imposed by the prevailing public procurement regulations and have since evolved to provide easier access to products and services for time-pressed clients.
Framework agreements are usually set up by a contracting authority within the public sector such as a council, housing association, or NHS Trust and are designed to meet the need for purchasing large volumes of goods or frequently used services as efficiently as possible. Suppliers that are invited join the framework have already been assessed and evaluated to ensure that they are able to provide the goods and services specified. The contracting authority sets the terms for these agreements and they are usually based on a four-year term.
Once established, these umbrella-type agreements are usually opened up for access by peer organisations within the public sector, so the benefit is spread more widely across a range of clients. Agreements are usually operated by a framework provider which is a business that exists to provide professional and compliant procurement services for a sector or group of organisations or members. Some framework providers research and institute speculative agreements which they offer to contracting authorities having identified a set of products or services from which they might benefit.
Framework agreements enable access to suppliers through a compliant process that has already been partially completed by a provider on behalf of a contracting authority. Contract awards can be made without the need to run a full tender process although ‘mini competitions’ are possible in multi-supplier agreements.
There are many types of frameworks and they are offered by a range of providers, so research is required to establish how they have been costed and the fees they charge. Many framework agreements operate based on lots where, for example, plumbing suppliers and timber are separated from each other within the same framework and offered by a range of specialist suppliers. This provides maximum flexibility as RSLs can purchase different elements of their requirements through the same framework according to their area of expertise. This type of agreement drives competition between suppliers by aggregating demand to help ensure that landlords receive the best price.
Depending on your location in the UK, the rules around public sector procurement will vary. Frameworks are often organised within regional boundaries that restrict access along geographical lines. Check that your organisation is eligible to take advantage of the framework based on your location.
In England and Scotland, framework agreements are usually operated by private sector businesses. In Scotland, some contracting authorities have formed consortia to aggregate their spending power into framework agreements. In Wales, frameworks are managed by the Welsh government to enable public sector procurement, often as part of localised or regional agreements, and suppliers must be Welsh speakers.