GDS picks large consultancies for series of £1m ‘urgent’ Brexit-support contracts

Agency selects Deloitte, PA Consulting, and Cognizant for apparent ‘bench’ arrangements to provide on-demand personnel

Credit: Judith E. Bell/CC BY-SA 2.0    Image has been altered

The Government Digital Service has picked a trio of large firms for three £1m contracts to provide on-demand “digital capability for urgent EU exit requirements” across Whitehall.

GDS published one contract notice in late March and another two in May. The three were identical, and each sought a company to offer government flexible, short-notice access to teams of digital professionals.

Each contract covers the supply of about five teams to support work on discovery- and alpha-stage projects, and between five and 10 teams to work on delivery. Additionally, chosen suppliers would also be called on for unspecified “occasional one-off resource placement”.

Personnel required includes product managers, delivery managers, software developers, and user researchers.

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In the contract notices, GDS said that government departments and arm’s-length bodies “need to run discoveries and develop digital services to design, build and run services that are affected by EU exit [and] may need a full team, or a number of staff to complement a team” already in place.

The three arrangements were described as “starter contracts to allow time-critical work relating to EU Exit to commence, while alternative arrangements are put in place”.

Cognizant was awarded the first of the three contracts, which came into effect on 31 May. The winning bidders for the other two deals have now been confirmed, with PA Consulting and Deloitte signing contracts on 19 and 20 August, respectively.

All three engagements are expected to last 12 months and be worth up to £1m to the suppliers – although no minimum spend is guaranteed.

The three deals appear to be examples of what are known as ‘bench’ agreements – in which an external supplier is retained to provide an organisation with skills and resources at short notice. Such deals have been criticised as prohibitive for SMEs, for whom it is usually unfeasible to keep whole teams of staff free and available for rapid deployment.

In the questions put to GDS during the tender process, one potential supplier suggested that the proposed contract “would require any company to allow for under-utilisation within their rates/margins – [creating] waste which GDS ultimately will pay for”.

In response, GDS said “we accept there may be a price premium because of the speed of response that we need”.

Another supplier simply asked: “Do you just want a bench?”.

“The contract will be to deliver digital outcomes relating to EU exit,” GDS responded. “It will be for the supplier to determine how they manage their staff to deliver those outcomes. We do not just want a bench of staff to call on.”

The three deals may all have been won by large consultancies and services firms, but each was at least bid for predominantly by smaller companies. 

The first contract attracted 39 bids from SMEs and 27 from large firms. Of the 45 suppliers that bid for the second deal, 30 were SMEs while, on the third contract, SME bids outnumbered those from large firms by 36 to 19.


Sam Trendall

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