Keystone's Expert Tips for Procurement
As school budgets are stretched tighter by inflation and the cost of living crisis, it's increasingly important to take a second look at areas where you can make efficiencies, rather than cuts. Managing the procurement process to ensure that your school or trust gets the best value for money is a way to economise without sacrificing quality.
While you should abide by the Public Contracts Regulations (PCR) procurement rules when the services or goods you wish to buy are over the threshold (£213,477 for goods and services and £5,366,937 for works). However, this leaves a huge amount of freedom for school business professionals to find and commission goods and services. Lisa Jones gives her expert advice on getting the most out of your procurement process.
Keep an eye on your preferred suppliers
While preferred suppliers lists can save you time, it's important to keep an eye on them. Having Harold from your local plumbing company come out every time you have a leak or a blockage can be convenient, however without regularly checking for price increases, you leave yourself open to a nasty surprise when the invoice comes. We would recommend checking your suppliers for best value every twelve months as standard.
Always collect more than one quote
Every school or trust will have a different definition of what a "significant" purchase is. In most organisations, this will be anything over £1,000. We would recommend researching the market before these purchases and collecting quotes from at least 3 suppliers – although 5 would provide you with a clearer picture of the options available.
Although price is a key thing to consider, it shouldn't be your only concern. For example, when buying sets of chairs, think about how easy it will be in the future to replace like for like. You should carefully check the quotes for the "whole life cost" and any potential contracts for hidden charges.
Don't be afraid to haggle
When you've got your quotes, don't be afraid to ask them if they could offer any discounts, especially on high-volume items. Although things have changed over the last twelve months with the increase in inflation over the last five years, the price of paper has dropped significantly. Inflation has seen these prices jump significantly. A ream of paper used to cost £2.42 but can now be £4. The average secondary school spends tens of thousands of pounds on paper every year. A 50p difference in each ream could be a huge saving through one small change.
The government's approved frameworks have been chosen for both their value for money and also their compliance with regulations. While these are fantastic resources for all manner of goods and services, it can pay to be creative and search around. Commercial companies, such as Staples, can have the same quality items, like printer paper, at much lower costs.
Check for relevant review
I have worked with many schools and trusts who have trusted these testimonials, rather than finding independent, relevant reviews. Many websites now have testimonials on them, either about the product or the customer service, but you should remember that these have been curated by the company to portray them in the most positive way. When collecting quotes, check for reviews on other sites such as Google or Trustpilot. Twitter can also be a valuable tool in collecting feedback and recommendations from other school business professionals.
Ask to speak to other clients
Most reputable companies will allow you to speak to previous clients who have had similar projects at their organisation. Not only will this give you an insight into the reality of working with a company, but it can also allow you to ask questions about when things go wrong.
The ability for a company to solve problems is something that often gets overlooked. We also hope that things will go off without a hitch, however, getting projects back on track can have huge financial and educational implications.
Make sure your tenders are clear
Your tender process needs to make sense. You should be clear in exactly what you want, how many you want and the need that the good or service will fulfil. The criteria needs to be scorable with a strong weighting system. This will give you a good record of why you made your choice for future reference and in case any suppliers appeal your decision.
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