FAQs: Frameworks

Frameworks FAQs

This page relates to ESPO frameworks. Find support for Smart Solutions frameworks here

What are Public Contract Regulations?  
All contracts for goods, services or works by public sector bodies are subject to rules known as The Public Contracts Regulations to ensure that contracts are presented to suppliers across the country and are awarded in a fair and transparent manner without discrimination.  

All public sector organisations making a purchase over the relevant threshold are required to advertise the opportunity on verified websites Find a Tender and Contracts Finder.  

ESPO’s frameworks are compliant with the Public Contract Regulations. 
What is a framework?  
A framework is an agreement between your public sector organisation, ESPO and external suppliers that can be used to procure goods and services.  

The Public Contracts Regulations 2015 define a framework as:  
“An agreement between one or more contracting authorities and one or more economic operators, the purpose of which is to establish the terms governing contracts to be awarded during a given period, in particular with regard to price and, where appropriate, the quantity envisaged.”  

Using an ESPO framework ensures that the buying process is fully compliant with UK procurement legislation. All suppliers listed on our frameworks have been assessed for their financial stability, track record, experience and professional ability. 
Why are they called frameworks rather than contracts?  
Frameworks are often referred to as contracts, however this isn’t quite right. Generally, a contract is a legally binding agreement between two or more parties committing them to exchanging goods or services in return for payment. 

Frameworks do not normally include a legally binding commitment on the customer to receive the goods or services and make payment. Only when a customer places an order under the terms of the framework does it become a contract. 
How do I access ESPO frameworks? 
ESPO frameworks can be found at espo.org/frameworks. Find out more about accessing the frameworks and the process to procurement with our framework support
What is an Access Agreement form?  
An access agreement form allows customers to view our official framework documentation. By completing the form, customers are making ESPO aware of their intent to potentially use the framework and therefore allows ESPO to identify the correct support for procurement. The form is also in place to ensure that the documents are treated appropriately, particularly regarding confidential information.  

Completing the access agreement doesn't commit the customer to using the framework. 
Why can ESPO create frameworks?  
The Public Contracts Regulations 2015 permit contracting authorities, such as ESPO, to establish frameworks in order to set the terms for any contracts that might be agreed going forward.  

Contracting authorities can award suppliers a position on their frameworks, if they are suitable and compliant to the criteria of the specific framework and the Public Contract Regulations. 
Why use ESPO frameworks? 
Frameworks are an effective way for public sector organisations to buy goods and services, whether on a periodic or regular basis. They can considerably reduce the amount of time it takes to run a procurement exercise, while also ensuring that you stay compliant with relevant legislations. 

Our frameworks are accessed by many organisations so we can aggregate requirements to achieve economies of scale, saving time and money while providing valuable access to procurement expertise, free templates, and useful guides to support you as much as you need. 
What are the procurement routes for ESPO frameworks?  
Through our frameworks, you can access the suppliers in two ways - by call-off or by further competition. Some frameworks provide both options, whereas others are exclusive to one.   

A call-off may also be referred to as a direct award and is often the quickest way to procure products/services via a framework. This method is available on frameworks where goods or services can be easily defined and priced, which means you can place an order directly with the supplier that best meets your needs. 

When the terms of a framework agreement are not precise enough to directly award a contract under Regulation 33(7) or 33(8)(a) of the Public Contract Regulations 2015 (https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2015/102/regulation/33/made), customers must run a further competition.

Further competition  
These frameworks provide goods or services that may vary from one customer to another, making it difficult to pre-define requirements and pricing. This route allows customers to outline specific requirements and run a further competition to evaluate suppliers against certain criteria and identify the best solution. 

Customers must award the contract to the top ranked supplier in accordance with the assessment of award criteria that ESPO used when setting up the framework. 
How long can I call off a contract for?  
The length of call-offs under framework agreements are not specifically limited by the Public Contract Regulations 2015, however it should be appropriate to the purchases in question and should reflect value for money considerations.  

This means that it is possible for call-off contracts to outlive the over-arching framework agreements, although you should consider how long the framework has been running when deciding on the duration of the contract; if you call-off right at the end, you may risk being challenged over the fairness of the final contract signed.   

The longer the contract, the greater the risk that a challenger may claim that the impact of the length is anti-competitive although longer contracts may be justified on the grounds of implementation time and costs, or on economic grounds. 

For example:

  • A banking contract where a public body may face costs associated to change-over and significant time would be needed for implementation, disruption of service etc.
  • A Refuse Collection Vehicle (RCV) would typically recover costs over years, in this case a public body would justify the length of a seven-year call-off on the grounds of the time taken for the contractor to pay back the original capital cost of the vehicle.

It is very important that you record evidence for a contract of more than four years and the corporate governance approvals around the decision, should another supplier in the market challenge your decision.

Please note, there are a selection of frameworks that are limited to how long call-off contracts can be. Please contact ESPO should you wish to discuss further. 
Is there a minimum or maximum contract length?  
The length of call-offs, as with other contracts, should be appropriate to the purchases in question and should reflect value for money considerations. Call-off contracts based on framework agreements may be longer than four years.  

Please note, there are a selection of frameworks that are limited to how long call-off contracts can be. Please contact ESPO should you wish to discuss further. 
How long does it take to run a further competition?  
There are no set time periods in the Public Contract Regulations 2015 that you need to comply with, but you should allow suppliers a reasonable amount of time to prepare and submit their bids. You might extend the time further if requirements are more complex, further clarification is needed, or suppliers are experiencing a particularly busy period.  

You should allow time before invitations to tender are issued to discuss requirements with suppliers, as well as time after award for implementation. 

Do I have to invite all framework suppliers to a further competition? 
You may use an Expression of Interest (EOI) to reduce the number of suppliers that may bid for your further competition. Your EOI must include your final proposed specification/requirements and should ask the suppliers if they wish to bid, or to deselect themselves from the competition. If any changes are made to your requirement following the EOI, you should either invite all suppliers to your competition or reissue the EOI clarifying your changes, giving suppliers a new opportunity to register their interest.

If you are not using an EOI, you must invite all suppliers awarded within the applicable Lot that offer service delivery in your geographical region to your competition, to ensure that all relevant suppliers are given an equal opportunity to submit a tender.

Can I run further competitions electronically? 
Yes, you may run the competition electronically by email or within your eProcurement system.  If you are a user of the ‘Proactis ProContract’ eProcurement system, you can now run further competitions online making the processes quicker, simpler and at lower risk of error. 

If you require additional help, please contact us tenders@espo.org.  

Can I use my current supplier through an ESPO framework when using further competition?  
When running a further competition, only suppliers awarded within the specific Lot(s) can be invited to submit a tender. It is worth checking whether your current supplier is listed before you start the process, as they can’t be added or awarded work via the framework if not. 
Can I change the weightings of my competition?  
Customers should use the same award criteria that ESPO used when setting up the framework. However, the weightings can be varied to suit your requirements.  

How long does the whole competition process take?  
There are no set time periods in the Public Contract Regulations 2015 that you need to comply with.

How much time should I give suppliers to submit their tenders?  
You should allow suppliers a reasonable amount of time to prepare and submit their bids. On average we suggest 30 days, however this may be longer where requirements are more complex, further clarification might be needed, or during particularly busy periods for suppliers. You should also allow some time before Invitations to Tender are issued to discuss requirements with suppliers, as well as time after award for implementation.  
Can suppliers change their pricing?  
Suppliers can submit price variations, when and how often varies between frameworks. It will also be dependent on what you have included within you call off agreement.   
Do I have to use ESPO’s terms and conditions?  
When ESPO establishes or renews frameworks, the terms and conditions are checked for suitability to make sure they are fit for purpose. To use a framework, you will need to use the ESPO call-off terms. If you are considering an addition or amendment to these, you are responsible for determining whether those changes comply with the Public Contract Regulations 2015, so we strongly recommend seeking advice from your legal advisors before you do this. 
What is a standstill period and is it compulsory?  
The standstill period is at least 10 calendar days (if notified by email) or 15 (if notified by post), during which the contract award process is suspended. This is voluntary but ESPO do advise having a standstill in place as it is considered best practice and helps to mitigate risk in the event that the award process is challenged. Please view the relevant framework User Guide for further information.  
Is there anything I need to do after making an award? 
Following an award, customers should complete the Confirmation of Award form on the framework web page to inform ESPO of their call-off.  Details of all contracts awarded above the relevant UK thresholds should also be published on Contracts Finder as required by the Public Contract Regulations. 
Can I access previous versions of User Guides?  
Our framework User Guides usually have several versions, and we always make the most recent available on our website. However, if you need a copy of a previous version, please get in touch using the listed contact on the relevant framework page.