The government has been forced to extend the Public Services Network (PSN) Connectivity and Services Frameworks for another 12 months after an overwhelming deluge of questions regarding its replacement
This means that although PSN’s replacement, the RM1045 Network Services Framework (NSF), will still go live in April as intended, the existing PSN Connectivity (PSN C) and PSN Services (PSN S) arrangements will be active for another year. An option to extend the frameworks by up to two years had always existed.
According to reports, the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) has received more than 850 clarification questions from suppliers relating to their tenders for NSF.
NSF has been designed to improve PSN in a number of ways, by allowing for the inclusion of new and emerging networking technology, encouraging more innovation and flexibility, and enabling local authorities to buy what they want in the way that they want to, something that PSN lacked, and was often criticised for.
It has also been structured to allow suppliers to build additional services around the core of contracted services to create bundled offerings, which the government hopes will enable more suppliers to compete, as it will mean the framework is not restricted to national firms with broad portfolios.
According to Phil Gibson, chairman of trade association PSNGB, these questions are thought to relate mostly to technical issues around NSF reflecting the increased number of suppliers involved in the tender process for the new framework, and some ambiguity within the wording of the request for proposals, although he stressed that this should not be considered a failing on the part of CCS.
Whereas PSN had 12 suppliers, it looks likely that NSF will have at least 50, said Gibson, a handy fillip to the government’s ambition to get more SME suppliers involved in procurement projects.
“Almost all our membership growth in the past couple of years has come from SMEs,” he said.
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In light of the high volume of queries, CCS will be working flat out to respond to every question before NSF goes live in three months.
In PSNGB’s view, the extension of PSN C and PSN S will offer a degree of continuity and certainty to the marketplace by ensuring there is no chance that local authorities won’t be able to procure network services under a valid framework.
However, PSNGB pointed out that despite the pragmatic decision to, in effect, take out an insurance policy by extending PSN, “what both suppliers and users really want is for RM1045 to be successfully completed on schedule”.
“I’d hope to see that at launch of the NSF in April, the vast majority of business will flow through it,” said Gibson.
The Cabinet Office confirmed that PSN had been extended, and would not impact the NSF procurement, but was unable to comment further.