Schools, along with all other areas of public service, are publicly funded and have a responsibility to procure goods and services in a transparent manner using the principles of best value and value for money while observing procurement rules and regulations.
This sounds like a big responsibility and it is! Understanding the dos and don’ts as well as making sure that you get the best products and services from your already stretched budget can be a bit of a minefield.
Fortunately, there is a lot of advice available to guide us and help us to ensure that we are compliant.
Procurement in schools has changed. With the onset of academisation and the autonomy that came with it, with the subsequent reduction in what the LA’s could provide and more procurement regulations for public bodies there is much more to consider when making purchases.
The value of purchases has increased due to buying as a MAT or collaboratively and means in some instances they meet EU thresholds for purchasing requiring a different process.
Details of these can be found at here.
As School Business Professionals, regardless of the size of the purchase, our aim has always been to get the best value for the least cost.
Historically this would be something that we would carry out in isolation, getting our three quotes and hoping to negotiate a good price for our schools, easing pressure on the budgets through the process. This continues and can be achieved in a number of ways.
As an industry we often relied on local authority to provide their own service level agreements which were often deemed to be the best value as they were ‘safe’.
Many of those products and services are now available on the open market and can in some cases offer a better product and better value. That is not to say that the LA is not ever good value, just that we now have the opportunity to benchmark and choose an alternative
The DfE has created many different frameworks for purchasing, all with DfE-approved suppliers ranging from curriculum products to energy, facilities and consultancy services.
These offer the SBP the opportunity to achieve best value in a secure and regulated fashion that comply with buying procedures and procurement law (OJEU). These can be found at here.
Local Authorities may have other frameworks that you can access and suppliers such as KCS offer the same on products such as photocopiers.
For some years now there have been buying consortiums which we could approach to try and achieve value through economy of scale purchasing.
There is again some support with this through the DfE ‘Schools Buying Strategy’.
Launched in 2017 it was designed to support schools in non-staff-related purchasing, there is a current prospectus for 2020-2025.
This has seen the introduction of trial buying hubs in some areas of the country, and a move to purchasing collaboratively. Their strategy follows the three c’s, cost, compliance and convenience.
The largest purchase in any school, often taking up to 75 per cent of budget, while large enough in itself can incur additional costs through recruitment and of course supply.
We all have our preferred suppliers for supply staff, the introduction of IR35 has increased the need to purchase supply through an agency and costs can vary.
The Crown Support Service also has a site for recruitment at teaching-vacancies.service.gov.uk and offers a supply framework in which suppliers have published rates and preferable terms and conditions.
Through all of this, the main principles of transparency, probity and achieving value for money and best value is the key driver.
Schools have pressured budgets and our desire to use our funding as efficiently as possible to provide for our students is paramount. Time spent doing it right reaps its own rewards.
Key Principles of purchasing
- Produce a business case/plan
- Choose your procurement route and suppliers
- Set a specification
- Obtain your quotes
Sue Birchall is a consultant, speaker, writer, trainer and business manager at The Malling School, Kent.