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G-Cloud was founded for the purpose of streamlining the public procurement processes for cloud hosting, software and support.
In the Cabinet Office’s review on Accelerating Government Procurement, they identified excessive waste built into the existing traditional procurement process, including:
- Excessive amounts of guidance with too much variation, duplication and confusion over terms.
- Elongated timescales both pre-OJEU and during the procurement.
- Serial-processing, inefficient engagement with suppliers.
- Input-based specifications vs. outcomes.
- Risk aversion.
In contrast, it is theoretically possible to complete the entire G-Cloud procurement process in just 24 hours. In light of this, G-Cloud has been a revolutionary step in procurement innovation.
Through the G-Cloud, the public sector is able to buy digital cloud-based services ‘off-the-shelf’ in what is often referred to as a pay-as-you-go approach. This avoids lock-ins to expensive contracts and facilitates innovation, flexibility, as well as time and cost-effectiveness.
The benefits of G-Cloud include:
- It is quicker and cheaper to use than traditional procurement processes.
- G-Cloud is re-tendered regularly, so it is always up to date with the latest suppliers, services and information.
- It is easy to register and apply to participate in the G-Cloud framework.
- There are no hidden charges; prices, terms and services are transparent.
- Many services are available to try at no cost.
- There is a bigger range of suppliers than any other framework
- Buyers can contact suppliers directly with questions.
- There is no ‘lock-in’ – all services state up-front how you get in and out.
- The G-Cloud eradicates the need for contract negotiations, an OJEU or ITT.
- With G-Cloud, SMEs can compete with larger companies on a level playing field.
Moreover, since its inception G-Cloud has generated sales of over £4.36bn, 43% of which was awarded to SMEs, demonstrating that G-Cloud can be a valuable resource for suppliers of all sizes.
How Does it Work?
Perhaps the simplest way of describing how the G-Cloud works is by comparing it to eBay, as the two function in quite a similar manner. Let us take a specific example:
- Step One: You hope to buy a vase.
- Step Two: You search for the vase on eBay, applying filters to specify material, size etc.
- Step Three: You shortlist the results to five vase suppliers.
- Step Four: You consider each of them individually to ensure that you get the best value for your money. The first vase does is not the style you wanted. The second is shipped from China and the delivery time is too long. The third is too expensive. The fourth is made from the wrong material. And the fifth is perfect.
- Step Five: Having considered all your options, you purchase the fifth vase.
The crucial difference is that, on the G-Cloud, buyers must be fair to all suppliers and be able to justify their final decision.
Buyers: What They Buy
Buyers seeking to procure Cloud Hosting, Software or Support can do so through the Digital Marketplace, which helps buyers find suppliers for specialist services for digital projects and cloud technology. These services can be procured through three frameworks:
- Cloud services (e.g. accounting software) can be procured through the G-Cloud framework.
- Digital outcomes, specialists and user research services can be procured through the Digital Outcomes and Specialists framework.
- Physical datacentre space can be procured through the Crown Hosting Data Centres framework.
One of the major benefits of the G-Cloud is that it is an OJEU compliant framework, meaning that any public sector buyer can buy from the G-Cloud without needing to execute a full-fledged procurement. G-Cloud does not allow for mini-tenders, but buyers can contact suppliers directly, to request clarification on the supplier’s approach to the project, including cost and timeframes. These clarification requests serve a very similar purpose to that of a mini-tender.
Via the Digital Marketplace, buyers can perform a keyword search with filters to find suppliers that meet their requirements. All registered suppliers have pre-authenticated information about their company and how work, which saves buyers time during the procurement process.
Buyers: How They Buy
G-Cloud requires buyers to consider every supplier equally and fairly, to facilitate equal opportunity in the marketplace. This requires buyers to maintain a record of each of the steps they have taken so that they can justify their final decision. Tools and Templates are available to support this.
The steps in the buying process are as follows:
- Write a list of your requirements and get approval to buy what you need.
- Search for services and save your search.
- Refine your saved search using the filters.
- End your search.
- Download your search results, review and compare services.
- Choose your service, award and sign the contract (or ‘call-off’).
- Publish the contract on Contracts Finder.
- Complete the Customer Benefits Record form.
Buyers must treat all suppliers equally. As such, if only one supplier meets a buyer’s needs, then they can award the contract to them without taking any further measures. However, it is typical that a buyer will have to draft a shortlist of suppliers. In this case, the buyer is required to choose the supplier with the most economically advantageous tender, otherwise known as MEAT.
Sellers: Getting Started
All supplier applications go through the Digital Marketplace. To apply, you must:
- Create, or log into, a supplier account on the Digital Marketplace.
- Start your G-Cloud application.
- Make the supplier declaration on the Digital Marketplace.
- Agree to the framework terms.
- Confirm how you’ll work with the government.
- Answer questions to establish grounds for mandatory exclusion.
- Answer questions to establish grounds for discretionary exclusion.
- Provide information about your organisation.
- Add service information on the Digital Marketplace.
- Use 50 words to introduce your service.
- Use 100 words to describe up to 10 service benefits (10 words per benefit).
- Use 100 words to describe up to 10 service features (10 words per feature).
- On your supplier page, use 50 words to describe your organisation.
- Before you can submit a cloud service to the Digital Marketplace, you need to add a pricing document and a terms and conditions (specific to that service) document.
- Wait for eligibility checks to be made on your information.
- Get the result of your application.
- Sign and return your framework agreement on the Digital Marketplace.
Although this process is quite simple, it is important to remember that the G-Cloud is a relatively new route to market, with different buying groups, buying behaviours and competition. It contains a number of novel contractual clauses and commercial obligations, and even the style of registration is different to what suppliers may be used to. As such, suppliers may find it difficult to navigate and often neglect to fully consider the opportunities and challenges that the G-Cloud can present.
Indeed, only a fraction of the companies listed on the G-Cloud have actually made sales. This is most likely because suppliers incorrectly assume that, as it is so easy to register with the G-Cloud, establishing a successful listing must also require little effort.
How We Can Help
NewBusiness.Dev can offer end-to-end services or help with specific aspects of the procurement process. We employ a team of expert bid writers, G-Cloud Consultants and Public Sector Procurement Specialists with extensive experience. If you would like more information regarding our bid management and Cloud services, drop us a line.
NewBusiness.Dev Ltd, Lauren McNeilage & Mary-Anne Farah
How to get the most out of Contracts Finder
Contracts Finder is the single, central publishing portal for almost all UK Public Sector procurement opportunities. Moreover, it is free to use! You can even set up email alerts so that opportunities are mailed to you daily.
All opportunities above either £10,000 (for Central Contracting Authorities) or £25,000 (for Sub-Central Contracting Authorities and NHS Trusts) must be published on the site. These thresholds are significantly lower than their OJEU equivalents, which are £65,000 – £181,000, depending on the Authority and notice type.
Contracts Finder’s lower thresholds mean that a greater range of opportunities are available on the portal, thereby:
- Making procurement more accessible for smaller businesses and voluntary/charitable organisations;
- Playing a critical role in delivering the government’s commitments for transparency in procurement.
Contracts Finder is quite simple to use for basic searches but has some advanced functionality that enables more expert users to refine searches and get better quality results. Therefore, two members of the NewBusiness.Dev business development team, Nancy Laidler and Rachael O’Connor, have created a Video Tutorial which demonstrates how to search Contracts Finder, save those searches, and have opportunity notices delivered directly to your inbox, free of charge.
NewBusiness.Dev is one of the leading business development, bid management and copywriting agencies in the UK, and we have an excellent track record for helping companies win tenders.
Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at https://www.newbusiness.dev/contact/.
NewBusiness.Dev Ltd & Lauren McNeilage
“Please Procure Responsibly – The state of public service commissioning” by Joshua Pritchard and Rose Lasko-Skinner, March 2019.
A brief comment on Reform’s latest report
No system is perfect; this is as true of public procurement as it is of anything else. Anyone who has worked in procurement for any length of time will be intimately acquainted with both the positive and negative aspects of the current processes. Equally, they will be aware of the collapse of Carillon in early 2018. This most public of failures suggests that the public procurement process is in dire need of a shake-up, and Reform’s recent report confirms this.
Reform, the leading think tank for public service reform, released a report in March 2019 laying out the many failings of the current system, as well as a substantive list of recommendations to improve the process for government, businesses and the public.
In the report, Reform lists ten recommendations that would benefit all parties involved. We aim to give a distilled overview of each in this post, and we highly recommend reading the full report for yourself. You can find it here.
- Objective ‘make or buy’ flowcharts to be created
Reform is highly critical of the current ‘make or buy’ process, which has resulted in a high frequency of outsourcing for the wrong services, and therefore an unnecessary increase in spending. Reform recommends considering whether a service “naturally lends itself to outsourcing”, as well as focusing on the characteristics of the service itself, not the market context. To provide guidance, they have laid out ten questions they believe commissioners should consider before making any ‘make or buy’ decisions. Find them on page 22 of the report.
- A national guidance framework and toolkit should be produced, with a focus on identifying and quantifying social value.
Commissioners need to ensure that public spending achieves the greatest possible value for society, not the smallest amount of expenditure for the procuring body. As the public’s money is being spent, it is only fair that it be on a solution which offers social value in return.
The splintered nature of current advice on how to ensure social value makes doing so difficult, and many commissioners feel they are “freestyling” due to the lack of concentrated guidance, hence Reform’s recommendation of a national guidance framework.
- The PSTA (Public Service Transformation Academy) should receive an annual funding grant of £60,000.
- A national training framework (a free digital course) should be implemented to those procuring over OJEU thresholds.
Reform combined recommendations 3 and 4, so we have done so too. Up to now, emphasis has been placed on upskilling central government departments, usually at the expense of local authorities. This has resulted in a disparity in the commercial expertise held by central and local procurement teams. Reform recommends implementing and increasing training and events for local authorities to level the playing field.
- Government Commercial Function should expand to include an advisory service.
A focus on commercial skills is an important part of the reforms needed in the public sector. Commercial expertise capacity building in local authorities does not go far enough and a huge pool of expertise is utilised only by central government to the detriment of local authorities. Furthermore, the high turnover of commissioner staff has an unfavourable effect, especially on local authorities. Therefore, Reform suggests the provision of Government Commercial’s advisory services through Public Service Transformation Academy’s regional hubs to provide support for commissioners and maximise bidding potential.
- A ‘statement of responsibility’ regime should be adopted by all government departments involved in commissioning, so that all involved in supply chains are aware of the responsibilities and accountabilities involved.
Firstly, Reform has noted the contract inflexibility that is currently common in procurement, the burden of which usually falls on service users. This increases risks, which recommendation 6 seeks to reduce. Reform suggests that contract flexibility should support service delivery innovation. This means shifting to Outcomes-Based Commissioning (OBC) and placing more onus on what citizens/service users want, rather than what services or works are being purchased. Secondly, Reform recommends using a common risk appraisal standards framework to encourage a less ‘aggressive’ transfer of risks to suppliers. Thirdly, accountability is a key concern, and a lack thereof has resulted in a loss of confidence in public sector procurement. Making the boundaries of accountability clearer places the focus of procurement back onto the beneficiary/service user. (Page 38-51)
- Updated guidance should be issued regarding publication of information on Contracts Finder, including a standard minimum requirement of information.
- Redaction/Non-publication may be permitted, but a case must be presented to the Cabinet Office.
- Lists of Authorities who do not meet obligations regarding Contracts Finder should be published, be accessible, and a three-strike system should require “black-listing” for non-compliance.
Recommendations 7 through 9 highlight the lack of transparency in public sector procurement. The frustration towards the lack of available information was touched on in the Institute for Government’s report ‘Government Procurement: The scale and nature of contracting in the UK’, published in December 2018. Recommendation 6 seeks accountability, while recommendations 7-9 seek to support and enforce this through transparency and compliance. It has been clearly recognised by many, both within and outside of government, that this is a much-needed step forward.
- An independent review of the current regulatory landscape of outsourcing in public services should be commissioned, ultimately to move towards standardisation, healthy competition, sustainability and social value.
Reform feels that the audits in place to ensure governance of the procurement system are not suitable, and that regulation needs to be stricter, especially regarding the management of public money and the value for money across public services. Some have suggested that a new regulator is need, one that is independent from government.
In short, all of Reform’s recommendations seek to increase transparency for both the government and the public, and, in doing so, allow both parties to hold commissioners to account. There are clear challenges, but should they be overcome, these changes will bolster the procurement process and allow for new and exciting competitions and developments in the future.
To grasp the full scope of Reform’s recommendations, the full report is available here.
NewBusiness.Dev Ltd, Lauren McNeilage & Nancy Laidler
Reform is a registered charity and the leading Westminster think tank for public service reform. Its mission is to set out ideas that will improve public services for all and deliver value for money.
NewBusiness.Dev is a London based business development and copywriting agency. We work with clients across Europe, refining sales strategies, finding and winning new business.
NewBusiness.Dev was made aware of the report by diginomica, a media property designed to serve the interests of enterprise leaders in the digital era, please read the article here.