Please find below some useful guidance and frequently asked questions to help you understand some of the processes and procedures when using LUPC’s contracts and framework agreements.
Q: What is a framework agreement?
Formally, it is an agreement between one or more contracting authorities and one or more suppliers which establishes the terms (in particular the terms as to price and, where appropriate, quantity) under which the supplier will enter into one or more contracts with a contracting authority in the period during which the framework agreement applies. Such agreements set out the terms and conditions for subsequent call-offs but place no obligations, in themselves, on the procurers to buy anything. With this approach, contracts are formed under the Regulations only when goods, works and services are called off under the agreement.
In layman's terms, a framework agreement sets out the overarching terms and conditions (such as maximum pricing or minimum service levels) that users of that agreement can expect to receive after they have entered into their own (entirely optional) contracts with approved suppliers to the framework. Whilst these terms and conditions are set at framework level, there is usually flexibility (within reason) for users to adapt the framework to meet their own particular requirements when 'calling off' (or contracting with a specific supplier). The method of call-off will vary from agreement to agreement, so do check the Buyer's Guide on HE Contracts.
Frameworks are not contracts and there is no obligation on members to use them. LUPC frameworks are only open to members of consortia named in the original tender contract notice, for compliancy with the EU procurement rules. Our frameworks usually last for four years before being re-tendered.
Q: What are the benefits of using framework agreements?
Buying through multi-user framework agreements is a good idea because:
- Frameworks are a pre-competed route to market providing a vehicle to centralise procurement spend
- Shared procurement expertise and resources
- Shared risk and contract management
Frameworks reduce administrative burden:
- Time and cost compared to running a full procurement procedure each time (and helps to ensure legal compliance).
- The requirement has been advertised and capable suppliers have been identified through competitive procurement, so at mini-competition there may be fewer tenders to evaluate for each requirement - particularly if the framework is divided into distinct lots.
- At mini-competition it should be easier to compare tenders, particularly where the framework is divided into distinct lots, because the products and services making up those lots will normally have been defined and categorised when the framework was established.
- Flexibility: use of framework agreements is not mandated and authorities are free to use framework agreements where they provide value for money or to go elsewhere if they do not (but when taking into consideration the potential savings of going elsewhere you would of course need to factor in the potentially considerable cost of running your own procurement exercise).
- Security of supply (on multi-supplier agreements) - if one supplier on a framework runs into difficulty there would still be other suppliers who are capable of delivering the requirement.
Frameworks aggregate demand:
- Larger volumes are more attractive to suppliers and can achieve lower unit costs
- Smaller organisations working together will gain benefits usually only achievable by large organisations
- Lower bid costs are incurred by suppliers, and passed on to buyers
- Opportunities to standardise goods, services and operations across framework users to further reduce costs
Q: What element of choice is there in framework agreements?
A framework will generally have one, three or more suppliers. Within the terms and conditions set at framework level, there is usually flexibility (within reason) for users to adapt the framework to meet their own particular requirements when 'calling off' (or contracting with a specific supplier).
Q: How do I use the framework?
Users of frameworks award 'call-off' contracts against the framework to approved suppliers. Our contracts databse, HE Contracts, includes all the information you need on how to do this - the best place to start is with the agreement Buyer's Guide. The 'call-off' may involve carrying out a mini-competition. LUPC will provide advice and support to any Member wishing to use a framework, including at all stages of a mini-competition.
Q: When do I need to undertake a mini-competition?
When accessing a multiple supplier framework agreement, institutions have the option of undertaking a further or mini-competition if not calling-off directly from the agreement. The rules for further, or "mini" competitions may differ from agreement to agreement, so it's important that you follow the instructions set out in the Buyer's Guide on HE Contracts or speak to the relevant LUPC Category Manager.
Q: Can upgraded and new products be added to the framework?
Yes - the Public Contracts Regulations do allow the upgrading of products on a framework agreement provided these are within the scope and specification of the original tender competition.
Q: Are there any advantages of the framework in terms of environmental/equality issues?
LUPC has published its Responsible Procurement Strategy and Policy, which contains information about our approach to responsible procurement and our plans for the future. We also publish an annual Slavery and Human Trafficking Statement under Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015
Q: Are we permitted to vary the original weightings under mini-competitions?
Depending on the nature of the agreement, an increasing number of frameworks open to LUPC members include specific instructions stating the method and degree to which participating institutions are permitted to vary the weightings of the original award criteria. If in doubt, please do contact the relevant LUPC Category Manager for advice.
Q: Can we appoint more than one supplier?
The Directives state that creating ‘frameworks within frameworks' by selecting 2 or 3 approved suppliers either with or without some form of due process and then simply re-opening competition for each requirement should be avoided. You may, however, sub-divide your requirements at the time of competition and appoint a ‘specialist’ following the previously described guidelines. In IT for example, an institution could request separate bids within their specification for low-spec lab PCs, high-spec workstation-class machines, low-energy footprint PCs and ‘all-in-one’ solutions.
Equally and provided they are separately specified up front, an institution may create a single mini-competition using date-based requirements that leads to for example, one supplier winning business for an early summer roll-out but then another for a separately specified autumn-time delivery.
Q: The cost for us to change is likely to be quite a significant sum of money. Can we factor this into our decision when either calling-off or running a mini-competition?
Our understanding is that you are able to take reasonable account of the cost of change into your decision process. The institution would have to be quantifiably certain that the figure arrived at can be fully justified and have the calculations ready at the start of the process should it ever come into question. The most prudent line would be to include the figure within the mini-competition document to seek avoidance of a challenge around the introduction of additional evaluation criteria at a later stage and this influencing the final decision. Doing so may inevitably reduce the appetite of bidders to win the business and the incumbent may feel they don't have to sharpen their pricing model quite so tightly to retain the business. It would therefore be advisable to weigh up the pros and cons of its inclusion very carefully before commencement.
Q: What happens if I have a dispute with a supplier?
Because our members enter into a contract with a supplier when calling-off our framework agreement, we always ask members to try to resolve any difficulties directly with the supplier in the first instance. We find this to be the best way to build a positive relationship. However, there are occasions when reaching a resolution is not possible and that’s when LUPC can help. Call or email us and we will put you in touch with the right professional who will be able to help you.
LUPC staff are very happy to talk you through the use of framework agreements, and the various ways to call off from them. As this process varies from agreement to agreement, we recommend you read the agreement Buyer's Guide, available on HE Contracts or speak to the relevant LUPC Category Manager.