Business > Procurement

CCS set to respond to CL1 framework extension criticism

David Bicknell Published 31 May 2017

Naritas Consulting raises concerns over status of new contracts placed through framework after June 2017, saying they are outside the ordering period, and so are not covered by the agreement


The Crown Commercial Service (CCS) is expected to respond shortly to criticism over allegedly “misleading” its customers about an extension to the Contingent Labour ONE (CL1) framework.

A published article has questioned whether a twelve month extension of the CL1 framework is all it seems to be and whether customers who use it after June 18 run the risk of breaching the procurement regulations.

The article , written by Naritas Consulting, refers to CCS planning a “new uber-framework for public sector resourcing” which is due to go live in June 2018.  It details that the timing could give CCS a problem, as its “current preferred framework, CL1, is due to expire a year before this, and we feared that they would agree a questionable extension to this framework beyond its legal expiry date.”

The article goes on to refer to evidence provided by CCS chief executive Malcolm Harrison to the Public Accounts Committee in relation to questions which “explored” where CCS frameworks were reportedly extended beyond their legal expiry dates.

The article argues Harrison told the committee that “in terms of frameworks being extended beyond their expiry date, that should not happen” (Q88) and assured them that, “It is not a question of, ‘We just have to extend this’, it is that that’s the least worst thing to do, because it is very important that we still have the commercial vehicles in place that ensure our users can buy the goods and services they need in order to provide their services to our citizens.” (Q91)

?The article says this had, “set Mr Harrison’s intentions on a clear break from the past practice of extending frameworks past their expiry dates, and was clearly welcomed. But how did this reflect practice? The CL1 framework was awarded to three suppliers, Capita, Brook Street and Hays, on June 19 2013 and had a maximum term of four years. So legally it has to expire on June 18 2017. “

The article goes on to suggest that in March “rumours began to surface that CCS had decided to extend [the framework] by 12 months. This, however, would contradict the evidence given by Mr Harrison to the PAC, in particular because this was not the “least worst thing to do”. It said there is a perfectly satisfactory alternative framework, the CCS-run Non-Medical Non-Clinical framework, which can be used in exactly the same way as CL1 (but which is also far more SME-friendly and has multiple engagement models within it).

?Naritas said it is seeking clarity on whether CL1 is being extended past its expiry date.  The company said on March 31 that it wrote to Harrison pointing out the discrepancy between his evidence to the PAC that they would only extend a framework beyond its legal expiry as a last resort, and the practice of his “Workforce Category” team “who seemed to be ignoring this and just extending CL1 anyway.”

Naritas said it had subsequently received a response from Peter Lawson, the strategic category director in the Workforce Category team, which indicated that CCS was not “extending the framework.” It said the “ordering period” in the framework had already been extended to June 18 2017 (the last possible date), but CCS had decided to exercise a clause in the framework agreement that allowed the current providers to continue to provide services for 12 months beyond the “ordering period”.

Naritas argued this would have been perfectly satisfactory, saying “there is a need to be able to service any existing contractor placed through the framework for a period following the expiry date, i.e. to allow them to continue to complete timesheets and get paid, as otherwise there would be no point securing resource through it if they had to be terminated a couple of weeks later. It is almost always the case that existing contracts in place when a framework expires are allowed to continue for a period, and there is a specific provision (clause 2.5) in the CL1 framework agreement to allow for this for 12 months following the end of the contract.”

However, it queried a suggestion from Lawson that CCS would advise customers that they could continue to use CL1 alongside NMNC for the 12 month period from 19 June 2017.

“This is simply not the case,” said Naritas. “The CL1 framework agreement is clear (in clause 2.2 and 2.3) that there is an ‘ordering period’ (when new contracts can be placed) which expires on 18 June 2017. There is no provision in the contract to extend the ordering period. So the 12 month run off period is clearly only for existing contracts already in place when the ordering period expires.”

Naritas said it had sought confirmation from Lawson, and though it had not received a response, a CCS Q&A document on the replacement framework, Public Sector Resourcing, had explained that the CL1 “ordering period [has already been] extended to June 18 2017” and that there is a contractual provision for the suppliers to provide services for a further 12 month period beyond the ordering period.

Naritas said, “They are then deliberately ambiguous, stating that ‘CL1 will continue until June 18 2018’. Whilst CL1 will continue until June 2018, they should explain that this is only for existing contracts. They do not say that the ordering period is being extended, and any new contracts would have to be placed within the ordering period i.e. by June 2017.

“We have waited for more than a month for clarity from CCS on the simple question of whether the further 12 month period is just for existing contracts or for new ones, and despite it being opened almost 30 times during that month on 8 different devices they have still not responded. With the end of the ordering period rapidly approaching, we do not feel we can wait any longer before putting our concerns in the public domain.”

The Naritas article, under the heading, “So what does this mean for public sector bodies?” said, “in simple terms, any existing contractors in place through CL1 can continue to be supplied through this framework up until 18 June 2018; the existing CL1 suppliers will have to continue to service these contracts for this extra 12 month period. However, any new contracts placed through CL1 after 18 June 2017 are outside the ordering period, and so are not covered by the framework. They are therefore classified as “direct awards” under the Public Contracts Regulations.

“If these are for more than £106,047 in Central Government or £164,176 outside Central Government, it would be unlawful to make these direct awards. Unless the customer wants to conduct a full procurement process, they must use an alternative legal and in-date framework. There are various of these available which cover specific groups of customers, but the easiest route is likely to be the Non-Medical Non-Clinical framework which was awarded by CCS in 2014 and is available across the whole public sector, and which can be used for neutral vendors, managed vendors or to engage with specific specialist suppliers.?

The article concluded, “Ultimately, whatever CCS says, it is the individual public bodies that will be responsible for taking the risk if they place contracts other than in accordance with the framework. So regardless of what CCS says, the safer option for them will be to switch to using the NMNC framework and avoid the risk of breaching the procurement regulations.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said that CCS would respond to the points made in the article.

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