Party Conference Procurement Edition – part 3: Education

The first two parts covered in this series looked at two sectors where procurement issues are likely to be very high profile and contentious.  Today, in Education, we have perhaps less controversy, but nonetheless some very interesting issues around the public procurement landscape, collaboration and governance.

I'm not going to comment here on the Building Schools for the Future situation on the grounds that it is old news; so looking forward, the two big issues that dominate the policy picture are the debate about freeing schools from central control (through Academies and the 'Free Schools' programme) and university tuition fees / graduate taxes.  They point to the two major procurement issues in the sector;

1. The general squeeze on expenditure that seems inevitable across the sector, and how therefore procurement can best respond and contribute to minimising the pain.

2. The tension between the benefits of aggregation and collaboration on the one hand, versus the increased freedom for schools to do their own thing in many areas, including procurement.

Procurement at the Department of Education (DE) has been pushing for more collaboration across schools, with initiatives such as the OPEN sourcing platform. But will 'free schools' be more or less likely to cooperate with other schools?  Might they want to go it alone to show they are visibly different?

Universities and colleges are likely to be facing intense cost and funding pressures.  Collaboration in these sectors has developed well with encouragement from the DE procurement centre; organisations such as the University consortia and the Crescent Consortium in FE sector have been successful in developing this collaboration.  I would expect the further drive for cost savings to lead to this accelerating; although procurement departments will not themselves be immune from cost and headcount pressures.

The outlook for procurement staff in the centre of DE is unclear; as well as their sectoral responsibilities possibly being reduced (if schools gain more freedom for instance), they are also likely to be part of the "centralising central government procurement" initiative.  And with Ian Taylor, until recently the Commercial Director, moving on, DE procurement may have a lower profile.

In terms of providers, general suppliers to the sector are likely to see reducing budgets and more price pressure.  But there should be further opportunities for consortia, and also providers of technology and platforms that help individual schools buy better and act collaboratively - without this becoming another bureaucratic burden.

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First Voice

  1. Mark:

    Surely the questoin is; ” How do we organise schools procurement so that we get the best results in terms of price and delivery- probably arising from central procuremtn and using larger suppliers, whilst maintaiing the ability to grab locally occuring bargains where there are suitable suppliers.”

    as the Meercat says : “simples”

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