DWP: Review of the Merlin Standard by Inclusion

28 October 2015

The Department for Work and Pensions commissioned Inclusion to review the Merlin Standard as part of their effort to improve the standard’s effectiveness, three years after it was first introduced. The Merlin Standard aims to encourage excellent supply chain management and ensure the equitable treatment of partners and subcontractors.

The review examined the experience and views of customers and stakeholders via an online survey and series of six focus groups, which concentrated on:

•Understanding the role of Merlin;

•How the content and implementation of the Merlin Standard meets this role and why;

•How the role of the standard will need to adapt in the future;

•How the content and implementation of the Merlin Standard will have to change to meet its future roles and the possible barriers to this.

Through this, Inclusion were able to deliver a range of recommendations based on the experiences and needs of stakeholders and the recognition of changing market conditions.

These recommendations were divided into two groups: ‘improvements to the current standard’ and ‘Merlin in the future’.

Improving the current Standard

In summary the headline recommendations are:

• improve publicity and transparency;

• improve market information;

• best practice case studies and market dialogue;

• further improving the rigour of Merlin;

• fees should be more responsive to the size of organisation;

• mutual agreements prior to referrals to specialist provision;

• Expression of Interest form;

• DWP standards in managing suppliers.

Merlin in the future

The Merlin standard was originally meant to be rolled out across all Government supply chains. This ambition has not materialised in the 3 years since, with other departments developing their own respective tools. As a result, Inclusion recommended that DWP focus on developing Merlin for within the employment-related sector, whilst the Cabinet Office/Crown Commercial Service remains alert as to the actions of all departments and the feasibility of a generic standard.

Merlin could be more widely used by local commissioners if the accreditation process was less onerous and lower cost. Irrespective of introducing a sliding scale of fees suggested above, DWP should also consider the value of a reduced version of Merlin that can be used locally. This recommendation also applies in other scenarios, e.g. for small or low value contracts.

There remain detailed considerations that are necessary to inform the development of a regulatory regime that will enable Merlin to adapt to new market conditions. We recommend that in any consultations and/or proposals for future commissioning, the implications for Merlin are considered and proposals made for its future