Where to start with procurement in schools

Saving you money and saving your bacon!

The challenges schools face when trying to find ways to save money are many, and complex. It’s estimated that schools in England spend £10.7 billion every year on non-staffing costs – so efficient and effective procurement is critical.
We know and understand the reality that schools face with procurement, we know because we’ve been there too: knowing where to start; little time to research fully, tender documentation that isn’t easy to understand; potential internal skill and knowledge gaps; conflicting priorities; juggling everything that needs to be done; stakeholder engagement which is very time consuming; and a very complex regulatory framework. All of this, combined with the complexities of the market, makes undertaking procurement exercises a challenging task which could result in missed opportunities to help make a difference for your school.
We found a much better way to stay compliant and make staggering savings so we wanted to help other schools and Trusts. So, Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust has created Education Commercial Services (ECS), a schools-led, tailored commercial procurement service, whose only job is to achieve financial and procurement compliance, improve outcomes for schools whilst releasing vital cashable savings. We are experts in the commercial and procurement process for schools and we wanted to share our thoughts on some things to consider when starting a procurement.

1. Savings and efficiency

Frameworks or Dynamic Purchasing Systems (DPS) are an excellent way to compliantly procure goods and services. They provide access to pre-vetted supply chains and allow you to reduce timescales when compared to the full procurement process. There are a range of options available to you, however the challenge is where to start, how do you know which is the most appropriate route to market based not only your technical needs but also allowing you to deliver social benefits and reduce your climate impact.
ECS can support you through the options appraisal process or if you’re looking at this yourself, consider investigating solutions from; ECS Ethical and Sustainable Supply, Crown Commercial Services (CCS), ESPO (Eastern Shires Purchasing Organisation) and YPO (Yorkshire Purchasing Organisation.)
Our recommendation would present the most efficient and effective route to market, taking into account your specific aspirations to maximise social benefits and reduce your climate impact.
Always think efficiency. If you’re part of a Trust you may be talking to the same supplier as other schools in your organisation, so it’s not an efficient method for you or them! If you consolidate your spend as a full Trust, you’ll immediately enjoy better buying power and will secure a better deal.

2. Compliance

Compliance – what does that really mean?? Well simply put it means following your internal financial rules, the Academies handbook and statutory requirements when spending public money, the legal framework is known a Public Contracts Regulations 2015 (PCR2015 for short!). Suppliers may challenge decisions made if they feel that the principles of public procurement have not been followed and that they have been disadvantaged in some way. Not being fair, transparent and equal to all suppliers can happen without realising, if you are also talking to your existing supplier. Unfortunately, we have seen legal action taken in the MIS market in recent months with some schools, so this is something that must be avoided. The risks are costs, time, reputational damage, and with the potential for fines and legal action in serious cases.
Adopting a robust approach to your commercial strategy and procurement processes will minimise your risks. ECS can support you by providing access to commercial and procurement experts to ensure your projects deliver improved outcomes whilst ensuring compliant and removing the risks associated with procurement – protecting your Trust.

3. Improving outcomes

Who doesn’t think they need more money to help deliver educational outcomes?? A robust commercial process can really make a difference, both financially by releasing cashable savings and by maximising social benefits to your school, Trust and wider community, including reducing your climate impact. In almost all cases we never really start at the beginning – we just consider the route to buy what we think we need. To optimise the outcomes you should consider what you are trying to achieve, what would be really good for your school. If we think about Waste Management for example, you know how many bins need emptying and what kind of waste, but have you ever considered how you might be able to use this opportunity to improve environmental understanding and reduce your waste going to landfill – you can achieve so much more by thinking more widely and articulating your requirements to ensure you get the most from the market.
A procurement exercise is more than just getting the best price. It’s about understanding your requirements and identifying the best solution to meet your needs, balanced against price, which will ultimately deliver greater outcomes for your school.
When looking at adding value make sure you reflect on what is important to you. Think about the contract and how it could add value to staff, students, and the wider community through how they deliver the services to you, or by accessing the knowledge they have. There are many ways to do this, and some may be personal to your school and community, however, here are some examples to help demonstrate what you could achieve:

Catering service:

  • Educating students on healthy eating and food preparation
  • Reduction of waste, such as plastics
  • Supporting school curriculum activities through food education
  • Reducing carbon footprint by using local suppliers
  • Supplier investment opportunities

Grounds maintenance:

  • Work experience opportunities for students
  • Supporting the school community with family tree initiatives and herb gardens
  • Supporting your local economy with a local supplier
  • Achieving savings in excess of 14% compared to previous contracts

By considering the three areas above, you will be in a stronger position to add value to your school. Procurement is complex for everyone, ECS are education specialists and here to help. We can even do an initial review for you to help identify your risks and priorities.
Just get in touch, contact matthew.saunders@ecservices.org.uk.

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