Frameworks are widely acknowledged as the most efficient method of procuring public works but how do local authorities and other public sector bodies ensure a potential framework partner will deliver the best possible outcomes? Damian Donnelly, the Commercial and Contracts Manager for Constructing West Midlands, provides some essential guidance on the key selection criteria to consider when choosing a framework.
According to the UK Government’s ‘Transforming Public Procurement’ Green Paper published last December, the UK spends £292bn on public procurement every year. Clearly not all of this spend is construction related but the procurement of public sector construction works will undoubtedly play a key role in delivering the Government’s “levelling up” agenda, rebuilding the economy and meeting the UK’s net zero carbon target by 2050.
With the Government actively promoting the use of frameworks, they have an important role to play but in recent years choosing a framework has become more complicated. Many new entrants have joined the framework marketplace but not all of them adhere to best practice standards.
The Government is now proposing a major overhaul the UK’s procurement rules and looking to create a ‘gold standard’ for frameworks. Delivery of time and cost savings to maximise taxpayer value continues to be at the heart of its approach but there are also calls for greater flexibility, the removal of complex regulations, much greater transparency and more emphasis on social value.
As a minimum, public sector organisations should satisfy themselves that any framework meets relevant rules regarding the value and type of work involved, the duration of the framework and which contracting authorities can access the framework agreement. There are also a number of other important considerations when choosing a framework.
Framework ownership and management
Who owns and runs your framework? By choosing a framework that is hosted, administered and controlled by a public body or bodies, you can be reasonably confident that your framework is OJEU compliant and meets stringent best practice standards for public procurement. If, like Constructing West Midlands (CWM), the framework is a member of the National Association of Construction Frameworks (NACF) it will also satisfy all the requirements to be affiliated with this Local Government backed organisation.
Our framework principles are in line with those promoted by the Local Government Association (LGA), central Government (The Cabinet Office and BEIS) and Constructing Excellence. As one of only 11 NACF frameworks, we are also at the forefront of developments in public procurement.
Run by sizeable and well established organisations, publicly owned and managed frameworks offer an enhanced level of financial stability and continuity of supply. Importantly, they also provide access to a team that shares your values and is focussed on delivering benefits for local communities in your region, not just for its shareholders.
When selecting a framework, it is important to establish in whose interests your framework operates. Does it exist solely for the commercial benefit of its shareholders or does it have a vested interest in the local communities in which it operates?
Publicly owned and managed frameworks exist for the benefit of the public sector. Their management teams understand their local region’s needs and politics, follow best practice guidelines with regard to procurement, contractor selection and framework management, and act in the best interests of the communities they serve.
Local Government Officers have a genuine interest in the local communities in which their frameworks operate and are committed to delivering tangible benefits for them. When providing advice, they offer a level of impartiality that is difficult if not impossible for frameworks purely commercially driven to achieve.
Industry leading expertise and best practice
Selecting a framework gives your organisation an opportunity to gain access to a group of experienced public procurement and framework professionals who will provide the support and guidance you need to create the very best buildings.
Your framework team should include industry-leading experts who are driving the adoption of best practice and new Government initiatives. Members of the CWM team are directly engaged in supporting national, regional, industry and governmental initiatives including: The National Procurement Strategy Construction Working Group; The Government’s (Grenfell) Industry response Group, Constructing Excellence and the Construction Leadership Council.
We are also actively involved with the NACF, a best practice organisation of local government procurement professionals working to shape construction, consultancy and infrastructure frameworks that deliver scalable, consistent and tangible value.
Contractor selection is an important and often overlooked consideration. Many frameworks operate a commercial model, which means the more contractors they sign up, the more money they make. As a result, these frameworks offer access to a long list of contractors of varying capabilities.
Frameworks such as Constructing West Midlands adopt a completely different approach. We work with a select number of contractor partners that lead the market in terms of the level and quality of service they provide. They also have experience of delivering public sector projects at a regional level.
When selecting a framework, it’s important to choose one that gives you access to market leading contractor partners with a proven track record in the delivery of public sector projects. As a minimum, ensure that contractors are selected following a robust tender process carried out in accordance with Public Contracts Regulations (PCR) 2015 and recognised industry standard PAS91/SQ.
Track record and performance monitoring
How much experience does your potential framework have? Working in partnership with our contractors, we have been delivering improvements to the public estate since 2004. Our contractor partners have delivered more than £4bn of framework projects in the last three years alone.
Ongoing performance monitoring is also important. If your framework is a member of the NACF, it will be required to monitor its performance against stringent KPIs on a regular basis. The adoption of such high standards means NACF member frameworks consistently achieve higher performance scores than the national average for public sector projects.
As a minimum your framework should be cost effective, simple to use and OJEU compliant. The provision of a flexible framework structure, which can be tailored to meet project-specific requirements, will also be beneficial. Market leading frameworks offer a choice of contractor, call off type, level of design, contract type and procurement process including the two stage open book process advocated by the NACF and Constructing West Midlands.
Transparent, honest pricing
Last but by no means least, how transparent and honest is your framework provider when it comes to pricing. Frameworks, like any organisation, need to be funded to survive and despite what some frameworks will claim, nothing is free. Does your framework provider operate in an open and honest way or does it pretend its service is provided free of charge?
Although there are no membership fees for organisations wishing to access the Constructing West Midlands framework, we are completely transparent about the access rebate we charge contractors on procured contracts to cover framework management costs. Transparency is a core focus of government reforms and we believe one of the most important factors influencing your choice of framework provider.
In summary, choose your framework partner carefully. Consider the points covered in this article and opt for a partner that has the expertise, shared values and experience to act in the best interests of your local authority or public sector body. Ultimately by operating a robust framework selection criteria, your organisation and the local communities your serve will benefit.
Header image shows Centenary Square in Birmingham.