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Rowena Thomas, Head of Category, Education, at ESPO explains how to make sure your school is on point when it comes to acquiring supplies and services.

It’s a well-worn cliché that local authority, academy and free schools alike want to achieve best value for money as well as probity in procuring services and equipment. But it’s quite another matter to find practical help to ensure this difficult balance is struck.

Whether the desired outcome is improved lesson quality, making budgets go further or coping with rapid change, procurement can be more complicated for the different facility managers, bursars and senior academy executives involved.

A number of trends – such as short time windows between funding approval and the start of the new term, and complying with EU and UK procurement regulations are combining to test the facility manager (FM)’s abilities in procuring supplies or organising new construction/development at the school site. So are there alternatives – or even free advice – available to FMs? How can they simplify procurement tasks?

A first step, however daunting, is for FMs to step back from the daily workload and try to re-examine spending on ‘big ticket’ equipment and services. Start by doing a basic audit of annual spending or of certain areas. Is the budget allocated in the right way? Have you inherited supply agreements whose terms are no longer advantageous and need re-negotiating?

A second option is to enlist help from key suppliers. FMs that make time to talk to suppliers ‘off season’ could negotiate better supply and payment terms. Could your school take the initiative and put


in some classroom or equipment orders earlier in the year? For their part, suppliers might welcome the opportunity to review terms, ‘manage down’ peak season demand and offer you different discounts.

Third, FMs could tap into professional buying organisations’ (PBOs) wider procurement know-how. Fast- growing academy trusts needing to consolidate buying across a number of sites might feel pressured to bring in outside consultants to manage matters, especially as financial thresholds grow and EU regulations kick in, but local authority procurement teams and PBOs whether from the private or public sector can provide informal or formal consultancy on best practice buying or letting of supply contracts.

PBOs in particular are adept at running spending health checks that can assist procurement planning. These organisations have the procurement process and category know-how to plot a trust’s transition to centralised equipment buying, or cut the workloads of FM staff unaccustomed to regular procurements. Today’s supply frameworks cover anything a fast- growing trust or new school buying team needs in equipment and services: from building insulation and waste collection to banking and accountancy services.

If classroom places or DfE funding are finalised late in the day, PBOs have the know-how and market expertise to take the strain of quickly organising supplies and services for the new school year.

A fourth option is to use frameworks to deliver exciting new learning

environments and re-purpose existing or neglected areas. FMs may lack the time to research the latest designs and the contractors to install them, but buyers use today’s school frameworks to deliver transformative learning environments, low-maintenance sports facilities and outdoor play areas from leading suppliers. Hard-pressed schools can also re-purpose under-used parts of their estate with innovative outdoor classrooms and activity areas.

Recognising that FMs simply could not run many multiple-supplier competitions, framework providers now routinely split their education frameworks into smaller, more manageable Lots. These Lots focus on meeting schools’ different design aesthetics and pedagogic approaches from fewer, more specialist contractors and so, streamline the procurement process itself.

Once perceived as complicated, today’s frameworks’ other great advantage is that, with terms and conditions agreed and suppliers vetted, they can take the burden off FMs to organise tenders, should appease any DfE or EFA concerns over procurement value for money, and remove any concerns over spending audits.

Despite time and budgetary constraints, FMs and their colleagues can gain a range of informal advice, expert health checks and flexible education-focused frameworks to help balance required education outcomes with budgets.

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