Police order to buy through Sprint ii provokes channel confusion

Suppliers are confused by the government's mandate that police forces in England and Wales bypass Buying Solutions' Commodity IT Hardware and Software (CITHS) framework in favour of the SPRINT ii agreement.

Suppliers are confused by the government's mandate that police forces in England and Wales bypass Buying Solutions' Commodity IT Hardware and Software (CITHS) framework in favour of the SPRINT ii agreement.

CITHS came into effect in March 2010 with 20 suppliers passing the intensive, though flawed, seven-month tender process to get onto the final agreement including three Lots; PCs, IT Infrastructure and Software.  

However, the Home Office is now instructing police forces that previously bought through CITHS to procure volume hardware and software via SPRINT ii which has one authorised supplier, SCC, and went live in April 2010.

The coalition last month laid before Parliament The Police Act 1995 (Equipment Regulation) 2011, which came into force on 4 March.

It stated: "The Act sets out the mandatory use by police forces (where no existing contractual arrangements exist) of the SPRINT ii f/work."

A Home Office spokesman said SPRINT ii was "chosen to be the mandated vehicle for the police force purchase of commoditised hardware and commercial off the shelf software, for the primary reason that based on benchmarking undertaken it represented the best value for money".  

He said the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA) undertook this measurement exercise and price, exclusive of VAT, were analysed for each framework.

"SPRINT ii is an open-book framework therefore giving Forces full transparency over the cost price paid by the supplier.

"Moreover, as a single supplier framework, Sprint ii allows for the complete capture of management information and generates significant resource savings for Forces in not requiring them to compete via mini-competition," he added.

The spokesman told MicroScope that although SPRINT ii is a single supplier agreement, "the supplier is an IT reseller that sources from a variety of companies in the market, including SMBs".

An SCC spokeswoman said that through the adoption of SPRINT ii it had become the "designated route to market for police forces' procurement" of volume hardware and software.

However, the development was not well received by incumbent CITHS suppliers, with many finding flaws in the Home Office's decision.

Stuart Fenton, president for EMEA and Asia Pacific at Insight Enterprises, claimed to be "dismayed by the decision".

He argued that SPRINT ii was less competitive than CITHS because it housed fewer suppliers, did not run mini-auctions to drive down prices and generated lower volumes so could not match the economies of scale.

Fenton pointed out most OEMs also offered special CITHS discounted pricing and the feedback from public sector clients was that "CITHS is almost always cheaper than Sprint".

"To force the police forces to use Sprint would, therefore, seem to run counter to stated public policy to drive greater cost savings in public procurement and deliver best value for the taxpayer," he concluded.

Bordan Tkachuk, chief executive at Viglen, branded the move as "anti-competitive", adding the fundamental flaw in the Home Office's argument was that in using one supplier it could not benchmark best value.

"I don't know how they'd police it, Buying Solutions [CITHS], the government's route to procure under, would seem a more open and larger framework to give greater choice," he said.

Capturing management information from one supplier will be easier agreed Yolanta Gill, chief executive at European Electronique, but she dismissed this as a means to achieve best value.

Other CITHS suppliers claimed the move to SPRINT ii had not gone down well with some police forces.

"A number of forces are not happy about the mandate and are either ignoring or contesting this as they have actively moved away from the poor service SPRINT ii provided them with previously," one claimed.

Another pointed out that under CITHS any police force could single source from any one individual supplier but with others on the framework the public sector was "protected from single points of failure".

He also claimed that supply under CITHS was quicker as, "in a captive market, what is the incentive to turnaround orders or quotes quickly".

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