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Gov cockup on £1bn mega buying framework slams SMEs in wallet

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Exclusive Cost-cutting in the public sector has serious implications for service delivery: just ask the SME IT suppliers counting the expense of bidding for a mega software and services agreement that may now be scrapped.

Resellers were invited in June to tender for the Applications Development, Delivery and Support Services (ADDSS) framework, organised by Government Procurement Services (GPS), worth up to £1bn over a potential four-year lifespan.

The framework agreement covered 35 lots ranging from HR and Payroll IT Solutions to Big Data, Security and Application Support and Maintenance with between 15 to 25 suppliers wanted on each one.

Successful bidders were due to be told in autumn whether they'd made it onto ADDSS, but the process suffered several glitches related to the submission of data onto the Home Office's online procurement system used by GPS for all tenders.

A letter sent to suppliers, seen by The Channel, from GPS director of sourcing and category management Stephen Guy confirmed the problems.

"The ADDSS procurement was affected by hardware capacity issues for the servers running the eSourcing system, which affected suppliers' ability to upload their submissions", he said.

"We would like to apologise for the inconvenience caused by this technical issue," he added.

To mitigate the issues with the online system, GPS told suppliers to "validate" tenders "offline" but revealed its compliance checks "identified incomplete and in some cases altered tender responses from suppliers".

As a result GPS said it has decided to "pause this procurement".

Sources close to the the calamity said proceeding with the tender may have opened up GPS to numerous appeals from suppliers that failed to make it onto ASSDD, and potentially even legal action.

One told The Channel GPS had moved off the Bravo Solutions platform, a paid-for system, and onto the Home Office proprietary procurement tool that was fit for purpose when it was only used by the Home Office.

But with GPS now loading all tenders from the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) onto it, the system has become clunky and prone to crashes, said sources.

Guy added in the letter: "We have commissioned a review of the ADDSS procurement, which will cover the structure and the lots within the original requirement and identify the most pressing priorities to ensure customer needs are met."

"Pending the results of this review we may decide to recommence some of the procurement activity, however, we cannot guarantee that at this stage. In this instance we will make every endeavour to enable you to best re-use the content of your tender responses where it is possible to do so," he added.

The mega pan-government IT Hardware and Services framework run by GPS earlier this year was also hit by delays but did finally manage to go live in the summer.

Suppliers told us they spent months responding to the ASSDD tender, which was a complicated, expensive process.

One of the suppliers questioned how the debacle would affect the government's stated agenda of getting more SMEs involved in public sector projects.

"We've spent a fortune on the tender and won't get that money back," he said. "We are an SME and don't have resources to hand".

Suppliers are contractually liable for the cost of submitting a tender, so no supplier can actually claw back cash in that respect.

A GPS spokesman said discussions were continuing with suppliers, adding the framework is "still under review". ®

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