Skip to main content

February update - addressing the Digital Services framework

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Digital Services framework

Tony Singleton - February update


The Digital Services framework

There’s been a lot of discussion recently, both online and off, about the adequacy of the Digital Services framework. The framework was set-up to give the public sector easy access to suppliers of all sizes, with the right digital capabilities, to help them produce public services that are digital by default and focused on user needs. We’re aware that in it’s current form, the Digital Services framework is not achieving this aim. Rest assured, we are addressing this.

The framework should give access to the deep pool of agile suppliers needed by the public sector to do what it needs to do digitally. The team responsible for designing the framework took their inspiration from agile contracts used elsewhere and designed the initial set of terms and conditions to be relatively lightweight.

Where we are currently

The current iteration of the framework has had some success leveling the playing field for government contracts, supporting​ growth by giving opportunities to smaller suppliers​ (SMEs make up 84% of those on the framework). So far, there are 184 projects using the framework with call-off agreements totalling £21.5m. Invoiced spend is much lower at £6.7m; disappointing when compared with the £40m estimated spend in the first nine months of the framework.

Digital Services 2

Digital Services 2 (DS2) brings in some very important changes required by the public sector that emerged during discovery. In particular it supports buyers who need quality people with the right skills so they can deliver the best project outcomes. It also supports suppliers who need to be part of an open and fair marketplace that places the right value on their services. The changes include:

  • Simplified single further competition process
  • Buying teams are able to request demonstrations, scrutinise, and test various aspects of the supplier’s proposal as part of the RFP evaluation
  • Simplified digital capabilities
  • Increases breadth of experience levels from junior to senior to include intermediate level.

The DS2 bid submission has now closed with over 280 suppliers having bid for a place on the framework. To cancel DS2 would mean those suppliers would’ve wasted a great deal of time and effort in putting those together. It would also mean that improvements we’ve made could not be in place until DS3 is issued later in the year. For these reasons, it’s been decided to let DS2 stand and put all of our efforts into what might replace it. DS2 will expire as soon as a replacement is in place.

We know that letters have already been sent to suppliers stating that agile services will be removed from the Digital Marketplace. After jointly reviewing this decision and listening to the resounding feedback, Crown Commercial Service (CCS) and Government Digital Service (GDS) have decided not remove agile development services available under G-Cloud 5 from the Digital Marketplace, while we focus on improving the Digital Services framework.

We will ensure that the guidance around the use of DS2 clearly addresses buyers needs and is very clear on how DS2 will be used. There will also be a joint GDS and CCS team ready to assist commercial teams where needed, so they can be assured the way DS2 is being used is legally compliant.

Buyers will still be able to contract with single suppliers for whole phases of projects, based on the capability of their team. I can also confirm that having co-located teams has always been at the buyer's discretion, and will not always be a requirement. We'll be making sure that buyers are aware that they can take this approach. And we'll do our best to ensure that tenders issued through the framework are very clear about the approach the buyer is taking.

Digital Services 3

Although I cannot answer yet what form DS3 will take, what’s obvious to me, is that there’s a great deal that needs to be done to put the Digital Services framework right. It’ll be for the discovery phase to explore the framework vehicle and come up with the answers.

We’re setting up a multidisciplinary team, made up of the right people from GDS, CCS and Treasury Solicitors (TSol) to work on this. We’ll listen to private sector experts, many of whom have recently written about the shortcomings of the current Digital Services framework. We’ll consult widely with Digital and Technology leaders across government.

We’ll think out loud by blogging about what we’ve discovered and what we’re proposing. All this will allow us to take account of the widest range of views possible to ensure that DS3 is developed in line with the GDS design principles and meets all user needs, regardless of who that user is.

Sharing and comments

Share this page


  1. Comment by David Dinsdale posted on

    It would also be good to run some supplier consultations as part of the thinking around DS3. There are many people who can and will help if an open forum is created to exchange ideas.

  2. Comment by Matthew Ford posted on

    > decided not remove agile development services available under G-Cloud 5 from the Digital Marketplace, while we focus on improving the Digital Services framework.

    While this is an improvement on the threat of removing all services - what about the services submitted under G-Cloud 6, given that suppliers have only just bid for DS2, and there does not seem to be a clear timeline for an improved DS3?

  3. Comment by Simon Telfer posted on

    Our 'Agile Letter' was for a G-Cloud 5 CRM SaaS service, which used the word agile as an adjective in its introduction section, which is sales fluff and has absolutely nothing to do with Agile Development.

    Simply banning the use of the word agile in G-Cloud is not the answer, but this does raise an important point with all our understanding.

    Once we get some larger departments on board with DSF delivered service, and we all start to understand the new world better, it will become important to be able to say 'I can accept an Agile delivered service into production' through G-Cloud.

    We need to show how our cloud services and controls can support Agile and Waterfall delivered projects, and build confidence in the buyer community that we all understand that building AND running digital services is different to the old world approach.

    You are quite right, we need an industry dialogue to address this. SME, SI, HMG and whoever else is a stakeholder, so we know exactly what we are aiming at and the words we use to describe it.

    We need to get the interlock between frameworks correct.

    The better we get it; the easier it is to buy/contract, the cheaper it gets, the quicker we innovate.... the better the marketplace.

  4. Comment by Rupert Bowater posted on

    "I can also confirm that having co-located teams has always been at the buyer’s discretion, and will not always be a requirement. " - that's emphatically not how it was presented and we checked back with more than one person on more than one occasion. Given the muddle around all this it will need a very clear, easy-to-find statement to be attached to DSF3 for us to take another look at this framework. 9-5, Mon-Fri co-location is not a viable option for us.

    • Replies to Rupert Bowater>

      Comment by Raphaelle Heaf posted on

      There was never an intention to prescribe working practices on suppliers, except that they should align their delivery methodologies with the body of guidance provided in the Government Service Design Manual.

      It is therefore a misconception that suppliers’ delivery teams must work onsite with the client for the duration of the project. The Government Service Design Manual states:

      “...teams are multidisciplinary, meet regularly, and often work close together to deliver rapid iterations of user-centred products...proximity can make a big impact on the effectiveness of a team...expect to see lots of short meetings throughout a day, often around walls covered in notes or reference material. These regular exchanges are important to ensure the quality of the work…”

  5. Comment by Chris Cowell posted on

    My regional SME has been working with public sector clients for 15 years (including running a Ministerial department website for a number of years and designing the website for the Prime Minister's office).
    We worked with COI from 2002 until their closure, and then via ARM, G-Cloud, many different regional and organisation specific rosters and now DM. So we have experienced many ways of procuring and running large and small digital projects.
    If you want coalface experience, I'd certainly be very happy to be a part of any consultations.