COI claims flexible procurement process addresses design concerns

The Central Office of Information says perceptions of it as a ’bullying’ state monopoly are wide of the mark, as it unveils a new flexible procurement process.

The new process, which launches today, will allow Government design buyers to bypass the COI in certain aspects of procurement: the system offers a basic procurement offer, which will see the COI recommending one of its frameworks to the buyer, before leaving the buyer to run the tender and manage the supplier without further COI involvement.

Ian Hamilton, commercial director for the COI, says the process addresses concerns raised in the joint Associate Parliamentary Design & Innovation Group/Design Business Association report on public-sector procurement, released last month (News Analysis, DW 4 March).

The report proposed that the COI be bypassed by the design industry, saying, ’The need to communicate more effectively and innovatively [by] handling most services through one gatekeeper is no longer sustainable.’ Hamilton says, ’The impression I got from the report was that the COI is a big state monopoly bullying little creatives, but Government departments have been able to make their own procurement arrangements since 1984.

The clients that work with us choose to work with us.’ He adds, ’We exist in a mixed economy in the design world. We’re absolutely relaxed about that.’ DBA chief executive Deborah Dawton says the new procurement process is ’certainly a move in the right direction’.

However, she questions the reliance on frameworks, and the COI’s move to enlist clients beyond its core central Government base to include local authorities, NHS trusts and police services. She says, ’The basic procurement offer still only gives access to consultancies on the frameworks – it doesn’t do anything to open up procurement beyond that.

I think what is needed is to equip the client with the information they need to procure in the way they want to.’ She adds, ’My concern [with extending the COI’s reach to local authorities and other bodies] would be that you could see opportunities are closed down [for off-roster consultancies].’

While also welcoming the new process, Kate Sanderson, client services director at Bell Design, which works with a number of public-sector clients and the COI, raises concerns that the COI’s move to attract more clients could compromise existing client/supplier relationships, and slow down fast turnaround.

She says, ’I’ve asked the COI about fastturnaround work, and it says it can’t see a situation that would justify a single tender.’

COI three-tier procurement system

Basic – COI recommends a framework, the client runs the tender and manages the supplier

Added-value – COI recommends a framework and runs the tender, while the client manages the supplier

Managed service – similar to the existing system: the COI recommends a framework, runs the tender and manages the supplier

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