Leaders at the Tri-borough shared services programme are in "active discussion" with five other London local authorities about joining its framework allowing councils to purchase IT services and resources cheaply, consistently and efficiently.
Launched last month, the procurement framework agreement is expected to save Tri-borough, run jointly by Westminster City Council, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, £3m by 2016.
Westminster, which is leading on the framework, is in talks with councils in London and beyond, including Harrow which is currently "fact finding on options" and has explored joining the framework as an option according to a member of Harrow's procurement team. Westminster would not be drawn on the identity of the other four councils.
"At the Tri-borough level it's a response to significant reduction in funding", Westminster's Interim Chief Information Officer Ben Goward told Local Digital. "The more councils involved, the cheaper it is and IT becomes consistent. There is more scope for joining up and freeing up resources involved in managing multiple contracts", he said.
The framework aims to make buying IT quicker and eliminates the need to invest in "huge procurement processes" such as the drafting of legal terms said Goward. Councils also benefit from economies of scale, so if 10 local authorities procure the same desktop platform for example, the cost of buying together becomes lower than individual procurements.
Buyers calling off from the framework can purchase services and products either in their entirety or as selected service elements, avoiding 'lock in' to lengthy, expensive contracts. Instead the framework is built upon three contracts with two providers: BT provides IT for desktop services such as laptops, PCs and other hardware as well as data storage and hosting, Agilsys provides IT support.
A BT spokesperson said: "We advocate this as a positive way of transforming your organisation and delivering efficiencies. All services can be flexed up and down from the service catalogue offering customers flexibility to meet changing requirements over the term of the call off. We're talking to Boroughs about transitioning to the framework". Individual authorities' call off term is 5 years with a 3 year extension option.
There were some challenges in preparing the framework, said Goward. "Processing an ICT framework contract for everyone rather than just for yourself is a bigger exercise upfront for the lead authority." Preparation included agreeing call off schedules and bringing together neighbouring councils, which have, among others created "an overhead" he said.
For groups of local authorities considering following in the Tri-borough's footsteps, Goward advises: "involve neighbouring authorities and others you expect to call off at the earliest stage".
Goward and his team are now setting up a strategic governance panel to take "collective responsibility" for the framework. "Going forward we're developing a strategy for governance with quarterly meetings with CIOs and Chief Executives of calling off organisations - they determine how the framework develops", he said.
In the meantime, Tri-borough continues to promote the framework to other councils. "It's a double-edged sword. We'd like to see it expand across neighbouring authorities although it's not desirable to promote services to the extreme as there is a capacity constraint".