How to use framework agreements successfully

Most schools and academies use framework agreements to get best value for money on their goods and services, but there is so much more to frameworks than that. If you’ve never used a framework before or you would like to understand how to make frameworks work for you, CLP Group offers this following guide

A framework is a list of approved suppliers that have been through a robust procurement process to obtain a place on the framework. The framework sets out the terms (particularly relating to price and quality) under which individual purchases (call-offs) can be made. A school or academy can select their provider or ‘call off’ without going through a full procurement process.
Each framework covers specific goods or services such as IT hardware or building cleaning services. When a framework is set up by a purchasing consortium, various factors such as price, quality and service are all evaluated to ensure it offers best value for money.
Frameworks give you access to approved suppliers that have been assessed through a comprehensive tender process by the purchasing consortium, which provides more assurance of their capabilities and quality.
Some frameworks allow you to direct award so that you can buy directly from a supplier without going into a mini-competition between all suppliers, other frameworks only allow for mini-competitions. A mini competition is when you invite all eligible suppliers to respond to your purchasing request.

Why is using one important?

All public sector organisations including schools and academies are bound by the Public Contract Regulations (PCR). These regulations set out a series of rules that organisations must follow when purchasing using public money.
The PCR apply to purchases over certain financial thresholds, for most goods and services this is currently £189,330.  When spending above the threshold, the PCR allows you to buy either via a framework or conduct your own procurement exercise advertised on the UK’s Find a Tender Service portal and in compliance with the PCR rules. Should your institution have in-house procurement expertise, a fully advertised tender process may be feasible, but it takes a significant amount of time and expertise to complete.             

This is where a framework comes in because by using a framework that has been set up in compliance with the PCR, your purchase is compliant and the time it takes to complete the exercise is much shorter and it has little or no expense. When spending less than the threshold, you may purchase in accordance with your institution’s financial regulations and using a framework for this is the perfect way to obtain the quotes and/or tenders required from suppliers that have already been vetted and get best value for money.

Benefits of using a framework agreement

There are many benefits to using a framework particularly saving you time and budget. Framework prices are often more competitive than in the open market due to economies of scale. Using a framework means you can simply focus on achieving best value for money for your institution.
You get a wider choice of suppliers and there is no need to assess them as this has been done for you. The best suppliers in the market have already been selected so you know the maximum number of responses that you will receive and you won’t have to give the whole market access to the tender documents. This can save a lot of time at the evaluation stage. The competition between suppliers on the framework will deliver some truly innovative approaches to meeting your requirements.
Using a framework can be faster and simpler than completing a full tender process. You can control the timescales which are much less than PCR tender timescales so contracts can be awarded quicker. You can call on the expertise of the purchasing consortium and use their template tender documentation.          
Frameworks have pre-agreed terms and conditions meaning you don’t need to spend time negotiating these with suppliers and you can also be assured of legal safety.

How to use a framework agreement

Join a purchasing consortium and browse the range of frameworks available. Once you have found what you are looking for check to see if you can directly award your business to one of the suppliers based on the fixed prices already secured by the purchasing consortium.
Alternatively, you can use the purchasing consortium’s online quote tool (many are quick, easy and free to use). Using the tool, you will be able to write your purchasing specification and dispatch it to all suppliers on the framework electronically for a bespoke quotation.
Detail all your requirements in writing, be as specific as you can but avoid using brand names. State what you do and don’t need, use quantities where possible plus include your required timeframes and deadlines. Add in plans and photos when relevant in addition to any background information you feel appropriate. Don’t leave anything relevant unsaid as suppliers may make assumptions.

Giving yourself enough time for the entire procurement process is essential. Consider what you are asking the suppliers to do and ensure you allow enough time for them to respond, for yourself to evaluate the bids once returned and for an implementation period before the contract starts or the items are delivered.

Evaluating supplier bids

Use the evaluation template provided with the framework when evaluating bids for more complex purchases as this will help you take account of all the tender questions, weightings and scoring procedures.

Set up an evaluation panel of interested parties to give different people the opportunity to share their view on a score for a particular question, allowing discussion with the entire panel. This will help achieve consensus on the final score and help eliminate mistakes and mis-assumptions. Keep all your notes, scoring and evaluation comments and use them in feedback letters, it saves time.
Don’t evaluate based on what you already know. This can easily take place when you are evaluating a current supplier. You must only go on the submission and any clarifications received. There is no need to take up references on suppliers when using a framework or evaluate their experience as the purchasing consortium has already done this for you.

CPL Group

CPC and Tenet Education Services are not-for-profit organisations which are part of CPL Group, an education owned charity that gives back to the sector through funding of projects that support teaching and learning. CPC is a purchasing consortium with a complete range of framework agreements designed specifically for the education sector and many are recommended by the Department for Education. Tenet Education Services provides procurement consultancy support to education institutions managing tender process and procurement placements.