The good news is that this seems to have worked. The day after the story went live on diginomica, I had another response from the Cabinet Office team that provided a bit more information. I have also heard since that the story has caused a bit of a stir amongst digital folk within government and I have had a number of people say to me Twitter that the questions raised are ones that needed answering. However, although some of the gaps are starting to be filled, I still have a number of concerns and I eagerly await the response to the Freedom of Information request that I submitted last week asking for the up-to-date spend and purchase figures via the framework.
The Cabinet Office hits back
So, as I said, after I posted the story the Cabinet Office sent me a response that had a bit more information that is worth highlighting. The press spokesperson disputed my claims that the department wasn't being completely transparent and was being selective about what information released, where he said: “the DsF is still in its infancy, and while it is embedding itself we are providing updates through established channels”. Coincidentally, my enquiry coincided with the publication of the Digital Strategy quarterly progress report, which includes some information on the business currently going through the framework.
The Cabinet Office highlights that the report provides “regular and frank transparency updates”, but my request came just a couple of days before it was released and so the Cabinet Office didn't have the information to send across at the time. There are a couple of sentences in the report that provide some detail that is relevant:
“The Crown Commercial Service Digital Service framework went live in November 2013, with 175 suppliers across the 8 digital capabilities listed. 83% of the suppliers are SMEs.
“This is open to all public sector customers, and is the first managed service from Crown Commercial Service for central government customers. It started 20 further competitions; 7 of these have so far been awarded, 4 to SMEs.
“GDS [Government Digital Service] is updating and refreshing the second Digital Service Framework which will go live in autumn 2014. We’ll make some improvements, based on user and supplier feedback, but it will be similar to the first version.”
Okay, so we now know that GDS will update and refresh by Autumn this year – which does fit with its commitment to iterate every six to 12 months (it was launched in November last year). We also know that there are 20 purchases in the pipeline for the framework – with seven having been awarded so far. It's good to see that four of the purchases so far have been awarded to SMEs, given that a key purpose of the agenda is to diversify the public sector's supplier base.
However, we still have no idea about the size of the deals being done via the DsF. The Cabinet Office said that “contracts are generally invoiced after completion, which may be several months after an award and after delivery of a particular phase of a project”. This implies to me that there probably hasn't been any money invoiced through the framework yet, which raises questions about whether the Cabinet Office will reach its goal of £40 million of spend in the first eight months – but we will have to wait for the FoI response before we can be certain about that. However, it is good to see that the framework has seen some interest and that there is purchases in the pipeline. The only other point I would raise is that if government departments are invoicing months after contract awards, this could make work difficult for SMEs that rely on regular cash flow – but that's a separate issue. Nonetheless, the general line from the Cabinet Office spokesperson is that the number of competitions under and contracts awarded are the most reliable indicators of the growth of business.
On the hunt for a procurement director
Interestingly, a job posting popped up last week that relates to the Digital Services Framework, which was highlighted to me by someone on Twitter. It seems that the government is looking for a new procurement director that will head up buying and purchasing via the framework. The role will pay up to £500 a day and is based in London.The advertisement highlights that one of the key responsibilities for the procurement director will be to work with government departments to raise awareness of the DsF. It states:
“[The successful candidate will] engage with departments at both executive and more junior levels to ensure that they: are aware of the new digital procurement framework; know when to use the framework; know how to use the framework to become intelligent customers; understand the benefits of using the framework; assist with the assessment of digital control submissions which contain digital procurement advice.”
Read into this what you will.
- Kudos to the Cabinet Office for coming through with some more information, but I still feel like we aren't getting the full picture. I want to see a more proactive discussion and an engagement programme coming out of the government – similar to all the work that goes on around the G-Cloud.
- I do recognise that the framework is in its infancy, can't expect too much too soon.
- This isn't the end of the discussion, let's see what the FoI request delivers...