Developers on demand: Home Office signs £5m IBM deal for short-notice access to digital skills

Department signs bench agreement with tech giant

Credit: Robert Lamb/CC BY-SA 2.0    Image has been cropped

The Home Office has signed a £5m two-year contract with IBM through which the IT giant will effectively provide the department with software developers and other digital experts on demand.

The deal – dubbed ‘DDaT Central Multi-disciplinary Resource Service’ – will see the technology firm provide the Home Office with “access at short notice to digital skills so [it] can design, build, and deliver digital services”.

The department indicated that user-centred design disciplines are its “key requirement”. This includes service, interaction and and content designers, researchers, and accessibility specialists.

Also available under the contract are analysis and product-management roles.

The deal covers an array of skill and seniority levels, with potential day rates ranging from £425 to £1,207.

A key aspect of the arrangement is that it provides for services to be delivered “inside IR35” – meaning that, for taxation purposes, those providing the service are effectively treated by HM Revenue and Customs as an employee of the entity procuring the service. 

According to the contract notice published earlier this year by the Home Office, this will enable the department to exercise the requisite level of control over supplier-provided contractors.

“Home Office has been procuring a series of central, professions-based managed service contracts but, as we review requirements, it is apparent that a partner to deliver ‘inside IR35’ services is required for when Home Office requirement owners need a level of direction and control over the delivery resource,” the notice added.

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The Home Office has not specified any particular upcoming projects or services for which it will require supplier support, but rather indicated that additional resource will be called upon – at short notice – over the course of the next 24 months via individual statements of work.

The listed value of the contract, which came into effect on 10 November, is £5m – although pricing will be agreed on a case-by-case basis, including some use of upfront capped prices for time and materials, as well as more flexible models.

Statements of work issued under the terms of the contract will include requirements for individuals – or, less frequently, teams of specialists – as well as other instances where a desired outcome is specified.

IBM can expect to work alongside both civil servants and other suppliers, although the Home Office said that providers will each work to their own discrete statements of work.

The company will, for the most part, be asked to deliver staff to the department’s locations in London, Croydon, Sheffield and Croydon, although the contract notice said other deployments tp sites throughout the country may be required. 

Workers provided by IBM may also need to go on “seasonal furlough”.

“Occasionally, projects or programmes will have a break or furlough period – normally [around] Christmas and New Year – with the programme closing to all but essential activities and we ask our suppliers and contractors to furlough as well,” the Home Office said, in answer to a question from a prospective supplier. “Last Christmas this only impacted a couple of programmes.”

Before even being able to bid for the contract, suppliers were required to “complete, sign and return a non-disclosure and ethical walls agreement”. A full request-for-proposal document was only sent to companies willing to do so.

The contract – which called for a firm with “experience of allocating resource based on uncertain demand” – is a textbook example of a so-called bench arrangement, through which departments retain a supplier to provide additional resource for as-yet-undefined future projects or objectives that need urgent support. Such engagements, which have become increasingly widely used in recent years, are generally unpopular with SMEs, as they require providers to have access to a large pool of professionals that can be deployed flexibly and at short notice.


Sam Trendall

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