What are the hallmarks of a world-class framework?
What has driven their proliferation over the past decade?
And how can innovation shape the framework model moving forward?
These were questions put to senior figures from Crown Commercial Service, Pagabo, Scape Procure, and the North East Procurement Organisation (NEPO) during a discussion hosted by Morgan Sindall Construction & Infrastructure’s director of defence, Andy Parker.
L-R Aaron Lacey, Scape Procure; Andy Parker, Morgan Sindall Construction & Infrastructure; Kevin Murray, Crown Commercial Service; Joanne Peacock, North East Procurement Organisation; Simon Toplass, Pagabo
It was the headline session of the Construction Frameworks Conference at the Megacentre in Sheffield, organised by Built Environment Networking and attended by leading figures from across the construction industry.
The panel began with Andy Parker introducing the guests and setting out the purpose of the discussion: “At a time when frameworks are being asked to deliver more and more, it is important that we not only identify what a world-class framework looks like but that we actually use the right ones to deliver the best that we can, together.”
“For me, it’s about understanding the market as much as you possibly can,” said Simon.
“We have a process in terms of the operation of our frameworks which starts with an expression of interest stage. We may have an idea of what the opportunity is, and we’ll make sure that’s very clearly articulated to the partners on our frameworks.
“But it’s just as important to sit on the client side and really understand what they want: how they want to procure, what the governance is, what the limitations are and what skill set they need,” Simon continued. “We ensure we understand that fully before any procurement takes place – it’s vital for us to understand our clients’ needs, to shape frameworks to fit them.”
Joanne Peacock, regional category specialist at NEPO, which undertakes high-value procurement in major strategic areas of spend in conjunction with local authorities in the region, agreed that early and open dialogue was critical to success.
When asked what special contributions NEPO looks for from partners, Joanne said honesty was essential: “We realise that sometimes some of the documentation regarding mini-competitions might not be perfect and timescales may not always be realistic. But that honesty from contractors is invaluable. It helps inform our thinking and we can learn from mistakes in the next opportunities that are published.”
“Relationships are very, very important – both on an operational level and a strategic level,” concurred Simon Toplass. “You’re going to have some bumps along the way, so you’ve got to make sure you can access the right people to smooth them out.
Our framework managers need to talk to the client with a full understanding of what their requirements are and learning what might not have worked from them in the past. Then when we go out with an expression of interest and we get five organisations to bid, we get five organisations which bid well. There’s no wasted effort on the contractors’ part and no frustration on the customer side.”
The audience was invited to ask questions, with Phillip Collard from digital pre-construction platform, myConsole, asking how the industry can increase digital adoption.
Kevin Murray, deputy director & head of property and construction, Crown Commercial Service, pointed out that digital technology is already proving increasingly important; both in terms of construction projects themselves and the operation of the frameworks that procure them: “BIM Level 2 is already mandated across all government frameworks and it’s driving real benefits.
“A challenge that’s been put forward to government is to look at the way retentions are dealt with going forward. Technologies such as blockchain could provide part of the solution.
“It could work in terms of safeguarding supply chain payments and also facilitating project bank accounts and secure digital platforms for framework contractors.”
Simon Toplass added that the next generation of workers would not expect ways of doing business to stand still. He said that Pagabo was currently looking at the business models of organisations such as Uber, Airbnb, and Just Eat – the world’s biggest taxi company, seller of bed space and food outlet respectively – none of which own a single vehicle, hotel or restaurant.
“We’re looking at those companies to see how they go about their business and how that can be tuned in with how the next generation wants to operate,” said Simon. “There’s no definite answer but we need to apply learnings from these disruptive organisations to evolve tendering and procurement best practice.”
Andy Parker asked panellists if “a ‘magic bullet’ existed to deliver a perfect project” - while there was agreement that all projects were unique and presented distinct challenges and opportunities, there was universal agreement that bringing main contractors on board early in the planning process led to the best results.
Kevin Murray described how early contractor involvement had aided the procurement process and facilitated the effective construction of a specially-built court building in Warrington for the inquests of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster.
“The project was delivered a week early, and to budget,” said Kevin. “There were zero defects – everything was ready, which was essential given the sensitivities involved. That all stemmed from the early contractual involvement.”
Andy Parker outlined that frameworks seemed to have come a long way since 2013 when the government considered scrapping the model altogether in response to a perceived unfairness towards SMEs and Tier 2 contractors. He asked panellists what changed in the model to ensure its newfound success and adoption.
The panel ended with an anonymous question from Twitter asking the panel whether or not the UK’s planned exit from the European Union would alter procurement legislation, suggesting a reduction of regulations would be welcome.
Kevin Murray said this was unlikely: “UK regulation underpins procurement routes and Brexit is unlikely to see those changes. They serve a purpose and preserve fairness and openness.”
This provoked universal agreement from the rest of the panel and it was concluded that in uncertain times continued collaboration, openness, trust and a willingness to learn would be key to frameworks continuing to provide world-class solutions for an increasingly complex marketplace.