Service Contracts, Procurements and COVID-19

COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on society, especially with schools now shut indefinitely. As a result, you may need to urgently procure goods and services due to unforeseen circumstances, which ordinarily would require a competitive procurement process to be run.

The Cabinet Office has detailed the various ways in which you may be able to meet an urgent requirement as a result of the pandemic. There are two scenarios that the Procurement Policy Note (PPN) focuses on;

1) Situations where a direct award to a single supplier is permitted (Regulation 32)
• Where for reasons of extreme urgency, the authority could not foresee that it isn’t possible to run a procurement with accelerated timescales; or
• Where there is only one supplier who for technical reasons could meet the requirement (in the current context, says this PPN, this is for reasons likely to be connected to the scale of the requirement).

2) Situations where an extension/variation to an existing contract is permitted (Regulation 72)
• This permits an extension/variation to a contract of up to 50% of the contract’s value where the overall nature of the contract is not changed, and the extension/variation is needed for a reason that could not have been foreseen.
• Going down this route will require schools to publish a contract modification notice within OJEU where required.

The exemptions are narrow in scope, so schools must be confident they can demonstrate that the tests are met. Therefore, in responding to COVID-19, schools may enter into contracts without competing or advertising the requirement so long as they are able to demonstrate the following tests have been met:

1) There are genuine reasons for extreme urgency:
• For example, you need to respond to the COVID-19 consequences immediately because of public health risks, loss of existing provision at short notice, etc;
• You are reacting to a current situation that is a genuine emergency - not planning for one.

2) The events that have led to the need for extreme urgency were unforeseeable:
• For example, the COVID-19 situation is so novel that the consequences are not something you should have predicted.

3) It is impossible to comply with the usual timescales in the PCRs.:
• For example, there is no time to run an accelerated procurement under the open or restricted procedures or competitive procedures with negotiation;
• There is no time to place a call off contract under an existing commercial agreement such as a framework or dynamic purchasing system.

4) The situation is not attributable to the contracting authority:
• For example, you have not done anything to cause or contribute to the need for extreme urgency.

Schools should also keep a written justification of their decision and this is required by Regulation 84 to be included in the Regulation 84 report.

Schools’ Buying Club can help you run an accelerated procurement if you find that you urgently need to secure a new service (for example if your current provider is no longer able to deliver your contract). We can also provide more specific guidance if you are looking to follow any of the options discussed above. If you have any questions or would like some advice on your own contracts and tenders, please don’t hesitate to contact us on 0845 257 7050 or email

Tackling Procurement Jargon

One of the first steps to overcome when starting any new tender is understanding procurement jargon. We have put together a list of the most common terms you might see and hear to help you decipher the secret language of procurement.

Term Definition
Framework The Public Contracts Regulations 2015 defines a framework agreement as:

"In these regulations, “framework agreement” means 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."

In practice, a Framework is a procurement route in which suppliers have already been pre-approved (such as financial viability). This means that a one stage procurement process can be run which is called a ‘mini-competition’.

OJEU Stands for ‘Official Journal of the European Union’ and is the online journal that is home to all public sector contracts that are worth above a certain value.
SQ Stands for ‘Selection Questionnaire,’ and if you’re undergoing a Restricted OJEU process, this is the first stage which asks a number of mandatory eligibility questions as well as questions regarding the Bidders’ relevant experience.
ITT Stands for ‘Invitation to Tender’ and refers to the tender documentation package during the second stage in an OJEU Restricted process.
RFT Stands for ‘Request for Tender’ and refers to the tender documentation package for an OJEU Open process. Sometimes RFT and ITT will be used interchangeably as it essentially refers to the main tender documents (evaluation criteria and service specification).
Site Visit The Site Visit is a great opportunity for potential Bidders to come visit your school site(s) to see your lunch service (catering), building layout and age (cleaning) or to hear out your current capability and strategy (ICT). We recommend the Site Visit to occur sometime in the second week of the tender being out to market – this allows time for Bidders to read through all the tender documentation.
Bidders Presentation Bidders Presentation’s are a great mechanism for the School/Trust representatives (i.e. Heads, Governors) to be presented with a summary of the key components of the Bidders tender response. The School/Trust have an opportunity to ask clarification questions and understand more about the Bidder and their response.
FM Stands for ‘Facilities Management.’ This is a broad category term which includes cleaning, catering, grounds maintenance etc.
PAT Stands for ‘Portable appliance testing’ and is the process in which electrical appliances are routinely checked for safety. You’ll see this in Cleaning tender documents where there is a requirement that the Successful Bidder routinely PAT tests their cleaning equipment.
ABS Stands for ‘Admitted Body Status’ and refers to the certification needed by a commercial company to take Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) staff members onboard following a TUPE process.
Data Collection Catch-all term of collecting the necessary information for the School/Trust on your service to be able to create robust tender documents.
TUPE TUPE is an acronym for the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006. This can be quite complex, but its intent is to protect employees if the business they work for changes hands. TUPE is applicable in most instances. For the tender process, you need accurate TUPE Workforce Data from your incumbent so Bidders can calculate a precise cost of labour for the service.
Mobilisation Kick-Off This refers to your first meeting with the new Supplier where you can start talking about implementation details, logistics, staffing etc.

When should you start the procurement process?

The more time you have to develop your procurement requirements and manage the process, the greater level of competition you can drive from the supplier market and the better value solution your school will receive.

We have gathered some useful deadlines to help you keep track of when to start the process based on our three different routes to market:

  January Deployment  Easter Deployment    September Deployment
Direct Award Start the process by October Start the process by February Start the process by June
Mini Competition Start the process by September Start the process by January Start the process by May
Full Tender Start the process by June Start the process by September Start the process by January

Remember, this will vary slightly depending on whether you have your data requirements ready and if TUPE applies. We always advise you to start the process as early as possible to run a compliant tender and ultimately get better value for your school.

Talk to us about planning your procurement timelines today!

What is a contracts register?

Quite simply, a contracts register is a list of all your current service contracts. It is the best way to keep on top of all your procurement needs and tender start dates. All you need to do is have one master document with all your contracted services including the name of the provider, the start and end dates and the costs. We would recommend you build in an extra column stating when you should begin the tender process.