UK government puts £5bn on the table in trawl for public sector networks services

I dream of wires, say Whitehall’s big buyers

The UK's central government procurement agency is chumming the waters around the market's swimmers, hoping to tempt suppliers into providing a range of computer network services and kit with a £5bn tender.

The buying spree, which will officially begin when a framework agreement starts in fiscal 2023, involves a large spread of hardware, software and services around IT networks. Included are categories such as networking, internet and intranet software packages, network interfaces, network operating system software development services and so on.

Crown Commercial Service, the cross-government buying organisation that sits within the Cabinet Office, has launched what is known as a "prior information notice" to start talking to suppliers before it forms the official competition to be on the framework: a group of contracted suppliers from which a huge number of public sector bodies can buy.

These might include central government departments, local authorities, health, police, fire and rescue, education and devolved administrations.

Although the government cannot dictate the use of the framework, the procurement notice said: "It is intended that this commercial agreement will be the recommended vehicle for all Core Network access and infrastructure requirements, including all aspects of Communications services."

Crown Commercial Service, which takes a 1 per cent fee on all business transacted via the frameworks it organises, is holding a pre-market engagement workshop in November with industry experts and suppliers interested in potentially bidding for the resulting framework contracts. The government buying body will decide the structure of the competition and the division of lots after that date.

The new arrangement, called Network Services 3, is set to replace – you guessed it – Network Services 2, which comes to an end in August 2022, except this time it will not include mobile voice and data services.

The government has set out a budget for spending on the resulting framework, which is set to be up to £70m for 2023/2024, up to £200m for 2024/2025, up to £240m for 2025/2026, and up to £288m for 2026/2027. Readers may notice that doesn't come anywhere near to the £5bn maximum value for the framework. The reason is that supply contracts signed during the term of the framework may extend beyond its end.

"The spend profile indicates anticipated spend for the four-year term of the framework agreement. Please note that spend will continue on call-offs once the framework agreement has expired," the procurement notice said.

Although the tender addresses all the UK, in Scotland, public bodies are procuring their own wide-area network services. The Scottish government is re-tendering the deal giving public bodies access to wide-area network services in contracts that could be worth up to £350m.

Set to start from March 2023, the new deal will replace the existing Scottish Wide-Area network (SWAN) procurement arrangement that is supported by more than 90 public-sector organisations within the country, according to a tender notice published in August. ®

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