Procurement Essentials is a new series of articles to help you overcome common hurdles, understand key concepts, and make your life as a buyer of everyday goods and services easier.

What is a framework? Why do we create them, and what benefits can they bring to public sector buyers?

What is a framework?

Frameworks help public and third sector buyers to procure goods and services from a list of pre-approved suppliers, with agreed terms and conditions and legal protections.

Frameworks are often divided into ‘lots’ by product or service type, and sometimes by region. This means that suppliers offering certain kinds of specialist goods or services, sometimes in a specific geographic location, can bid to join the lot that best suits their offer. 

The number of suppliers differs from framework to framework, depending on what is being offered. Some frameworks have only one supplier offering complex, end to end services, while others are designed to be open to thousands of potential bidders.

Once awarded, frameworks run for a given timeframe, usually between 1 to 4 years, after which they are re-tendered, giving new suppliers the chance to bid to join them. 

Every framework has a top limit on the amount that the public sector can spend through it. This top limit will often be hundreds of millions, or even billions, of pounds, and is published in the contract notice midway through the framework development process. 

If this limit is exceeded, the framework owner must run a new tender and allow current and new suppliers to bid to join a new framework. This limit is usually set high enough to ensure that it’s very unlikely it will be reached, to allow the framework to run for its planned time limit.

What can you buy through a framework?

There are literally tens of thousands of common goods and services available through Crown Commercial Service (CCS) frameworks. 

Goods include physical items – from laptops to police cars, electric vehicle charging infrastructure to building materials. 

Services range from legal expertise to teams of digital experts; from construction project managers to business travel solutions. 

Some frameworks include catalogues which can be used for simple, everyday purchases such as office supplies. These can be bought online for next day delivery, and you pay the price per item published in the catalogue.

More complex goods and services can be purchased in low or high volumes using: 

Further competitions – asking suppliers to bid against each other to give you the best price for the quality of goods or services you need

Direct award – a quick way of putting a contract in place without competition, which is only permitted for a limited number of goods and services

Aggregated eAuctions – bringing many public or third sector organisations together to bulk buy things like laptops, network connections, or energy

Dynamic Purchasing Systems

Dynamic Purchasing Systems (DPS) are similar to frameworks, but allow suppliers to join and add new services at any point. You can find out more about DPSs on our website.

How are suppliers chosen?

Suppliers bid competitively to be awarded places on frameworks. Each framework is different, but as a general rule, suppliers have to demonstrate how they can provide the goods and services required and to an agreed standard. They may also need to explain how working with them will help you to generate social value, or meet carbon net zero targets.

CCS assesses all of the bids received from suppliers and awards places against criteria advertised in the framework’s documents, published on the CCS website. Once suppliers have been awarded a place on an agreement, they can bid for work from public and third sector bodies who are listed as using the framework.

Many thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) currently have places on CCS frameworks, alongside established, larger providers. CCS works to level the playing field for suppliers of all sizes.

What protections do frameworks give?

Procurement tools such as CCS frameworks can help you identify a list of suitable suppliers who have signed up to pre-agreed terms and conditions. 

Suppliers may be asked to prove that they have achieved relevant qualifications, that they hold specific kinds of insurance, and that they can provide evidence of successful performance on previous, similar contracts.

This means all you need to do is follow the award process in the contract or in the customer guidance that CCS provides for all its frameworks. Having a trusted partner looking after the framework you want to use and providing guidance along the way is invaluable.

Call-off contracts

A framework allows you to have what is referred to as a ‘call-off’ contract with a supplier – a template contract with many already-agreed elements that all suppliers sign up to when bidding to join a framework. Using call-off contracts can be much simpler than doing the whole procurement yourself.

You still have to develop and agree the details of the contract to suit your circumstances, and then manage the supplier’s performance once it is let. In some situations you may need to obtain your own legal advice.

A framework does some heavy lifting for you and gives significant protection from commercial risks. However, even under a framework you are still a contracting body and must make your own assessments of risks such as a supplier failing to deliver.

Why should I use a framework?

Frameworks can help you save time and money by removing the need for you to run your own lengthy and expensive tender processes. Read our article on ‘choosing the right route to market’ if you’re not sure how the contract value affects the rules you have to follow.

Suppliers who sign up to provide goods and services through frameworks are required to prove that they are able to do so to an agreed standard, and buyers are assured of legal protections for their contracts. 

Find out more

More information and guidance for public and third sector buyers, as well as full details of all of our frameworks, can be found in the latest CCS digital brochure.

More: The specification is the most important document in the tender process. Read our guide on how to write yours.