The Home Office's ruling that police buy commodity hardware and software from a single supplier framework instead of a multi-reseller agreement continues to attract biting criticism from side-lined suppliers.
Following the imposition of benchmarks to determine best value for money, forces in England and Wales were mandated in March to bypass Buying Solutions' Commodity IT Hardware and Software (CITHS) model and its 20 incumbent resellers in favour of Sprint ii and its sole supplier SCC.
CITHS-accredited suppliers are still reeling from this decision, branding it as anti-competitive, myopic and anecdotally pointing to disquiet among the police's procurement heads who they claim doubt Sprint ii is actually less expensive.
"Some forces are trying to work outside of Sprint ii but someone keeps pulling them in line every time an ITQ is posted on Buying Solutions CITHS," said a source, who alleged there was a whistleblower either within SCC or the National Policing Improvement Agency.
The soft savings of managing Sprint ii – fewer staffers in procurement – would seem to back the decision, but sources said that in the long term, the lack of mini auctions and other competitive mechanisms may result in a worse deal for taxpayers.
The organisational structure at SCC – which is part of the SCH Group which includes a distribution arm – is also causing some concern for industry rivals, who claim the firm could flex pricing to maximise margins - something they undoubtedly wish they had the ability to do.
The talk from suppliers is that cuts to their police sales teams are inevitable as business has fallen by 80 per cent in the last four months, with just the odd deal sneaking past the watchful glare of NPIA.
A whitepaper from Northants Constabulary written in November lends weight to CITHS suppliers' efforts to debunk Home Office claims about Sprint ii's value.
"A recent review was undertaken of SPRINT ii (for computer consumables, servers and laptops) against the existing contracts. A sample purchase indicated Sprint ii was £7,700 more expensive than existing contracts, for the same items," it stated.
Barbara Cairney, head of procurement at Northamptonshire Police, spoke to El Reg about Sprint ii, saying: "we have to use it so we have to make it work".
Cairney defended the framework: "The principal is good, we should be reducing purchasing spend. [SCC] is like a broker, can get three or four quotes, give us the choice, they can be in three or four avenues".
Any suppliers holding out hopes for a change in direction in the short term should not hold their breath. Cairney said that the National Policing Improvement Agency continued to benchmark Sprint ii, which would "definitely" take a year before it could draw down further meaningful data. ®