Industry fears second overhaul to hit CCS framework since the summer will cut out potential SME bidders


The government’s troubled £2.9bn flagship consultancy framework has been restructured for a second time in three months, despite control of the tendering process being brought in house by the government when it suffered huge delays. 

The restructure of the Project Management and Full Design Team Services framework lots follows October’s announcement that the framework was to be delayed again and not awarded until May 2016 - almost three years later than originally intended.

Public sector buying arm Crown Commercial Service (CCS) took over management of the framework in November 2014, after its procurement partner UK SBS cancelled the previous 15-month procurement process following a High Court challenge by then-failed bidder Turner & Townsend, and sharp criticism from firms that missed out on places.

The CCS had at the end of August restructured the framework into 23 lots from six, including regional-focused lots, in order to open it up to small businesses (SMEs).

At the time a spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, which oversees CCS, said: “The regional sub-lots would make it easier for small businesses to compete.”

However, the CCS has now told bidders it will instead start the procurement on the basis of just seven lots, and has scrapped the regional element.

The failure to attract SMEs had been one of the main criticisms levelled at the previous six-lot procurement process as no SMEs won spots. The 23-lot structure, which came out at the end of August would have seen 127 places for companies on the framework. The new seven-lot structure means there are now 67 places.

The new structure includes one all-encompassing lot covering the whole of the UK, two covering overseas work, and four individual disciplines covering the UK. One industry source said he was concerned at the ability of SMEs to access the framework, saying there is “no doubt the SME agenda has been diluted by taking away the regional sub-lots”.

The source added: “What they had was unmanageable,” and that the government had effectively excluded SMEs “because it’s all too difficult”.

Richard Young, director at Buro Four, said the change meant his firm was now unlikely to be able to bid for a place without working with other firms. “It is disappointing to see that they are effectively talking about a one-stop shop now. This is a shame, as the smaller and more specialised businesses will not be able to compete,” he said.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “We have simplified the lotting structure to reflect feedback from customers and suppliers. The new structure will enable suppliers to operate in more than one region, increasing flexibility and opportunities for business growth.”

Building understands the government believes the changes will not make it harder for SMEs to win places and no further structural changes are anticipated.

Rab Bennetts, founding director at Bennetts Associates, said: “If the CCS is excluding SMEs that would be regrettable. A more diverse grouping within each consortium of firms would produce a better outcome both regionally and in terms of the size of the projects.”

He added: “This approach to frameworks doesn’t seem to reflect the British construction industry”.

Meanwhile former RIBA president and director at Brady Mallalieu Architects, Angela Brady, said it was “unfair” and “very difficult” for SMEs to get on these frameworks, adding that it is “shocking the amount of projects not open to SMEs”.

“More could be done to include SMEs and have design higher up the agenda,” she said.