Sharp disagreements have arisen over claims that the recent extension of the G-Cloud 13 procurement framework for the public sector has made it more difficult for suppliers to serve the market.
The Crown Commercial Service (CCS) has defended its position against the criticisms, which have been highlighted in a survey by procurement framework consultancy Advice Cloud.
But IT industry association techUK has added its voice to the concerns that the extension has made it more difficult to use the framework for new business.
G-Cloud is an online catalogue for cloud services divided into three lots – hosting, software and support – that was reported to include over 5,000 suppliers, over 90% of them SMEs, when its 13th iteration was launched in November of last year.
In June, CCS announced a one-year extension of the framework until November 2024, stating it would “provide the time to further improve the customer journey and performance of the platform, before the next iteration of the agreement is delivered”.
The Advice Cloud survey – which states percentages but not the number of respondents – indicates that this has caused serious difficulties. Its results include that 31% said they had won ‘lots of business’ through G-Cloud, 34% ‘some’ and 35% none, with 55% of micro businesses and SMEs having made sales.
The impact of the extension of G-Cloud 13 was judged to be negative by 69%, with 51% saying they need to update their pricing due to inflation, which is making some contracts commercially unviable and forcing them to remove some services from the framework. 49% said they needed to add new services and that the extension is hampering innovation and preventing them from meeting customer needs.
There was a general feeling of a need to refresh the framework more often, with 68% saying that every two years is too infrequent, with a majority calling for it to be once a year or less. While some companies were happy with the existing cycle, many called for this to be qualified with the ability to make some changes to services, pricing and terms and conditions at more regular intervals.
techUK has published a link to the Advice Cloud survey on its website and stated that it shares the concerns.
Its head of central government, Heather Cover-Kus, said: “This survey by Advice Cloud really illuminates the negative impact that the delay of the next iteration of G-Cloud will have on suppliers, particularly SMEs who rely on this framework to engage directly with government departments.
“It also shows that contracting authorities are likely to suffer too by having fewer and less innovative options from which to choose. We encourage Crown Commercial Services to avoid framework delays where possible going forward.”
CCS has defended the extension, saying it continues to receive praise for G-Cloud from customers and suppliers, that it is still used extensively across the public sector.
Asked if the feedback reflects the claims that suppliers have been left with too little flexibility to respond to rising costs, a spokesperson said: “G-Cloud 13 closed for applications in May 2022 when inflation was running at 7.9%. Suppliers were aware at the time of agreeing to framework terms that prices needed to be held for the duration of the framework, including the extension period, if used.
“Pricing cannot be increased during the framework agreement term, but suppliers may reduce pricing or offer discounts. Suppliers are able to update but not materially change service definitions, which are subject to approval by CCS.
“When the call off contract is formed between the buyer and supplier, pricing reviews can be incorporated into the terms of the call off but must be mutually agreed upon by both parties prior to signature.
“Publishing the extension notice has not produced a significant influx of supplier concerns over pricing pressures. CCS is happy to help and advise suppliers on how to continue providing services to the public sector under G-Cloud and through this extension period. We regularly hold supplier webinars where these matters are often discussed.”
It also pointed out that extensions were used for G-Cloud 11 and 12 – albeit when inflation was lower – and claimed suppliers continue to be successful, with the share of business for SMEs remaining around 40% over 2021-22 and 2022-23.
Asked if there is any possibility of a change in G-Cloud 13 before the launch of its successor, it reiterated the fact that the framework is a one-year agreement with the possibility of a one-year extension that it has decided to apply.
It added that is continuing to work on G-Cloud 14, and to “engage with market organisations and suppliers to ensure current and future iterations of G-Cloud offer the same level of opportunity for SMEs, whilst ensuring we continuously improve the quality and range of services available to be procured for the public sector”.