Buying for schoolsPrint publication
In recent years, maintained schools have been given more control over their own budget. Those schools that have converted to academies have even greater financial freedom. We are finding that many local authorities are not offering the same level of support to maintained schools with their procurement as they once did; and academies do not have that support at all, unless they choose to buy-back a service from the local authority.
Yet schools, whether academies, free schools or community schools, are funded by public money so they must follow the procurement rules to make sure that public funds are being spent openly and fairly. The Department for Education (DfE) has recently set up a new collection of documents on its website at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/buying-for-schools to help schools ensure they follow the correct procurement procedures, not only to comply with the legislation but to make sure that they get a good deal.
Effective buying for your school
The main document is Effective buying for your school, which is a revamped version of guidance that was published last year. Our article summarises the main points. The key things to remember are:
- Look for efficiencies – where can your school save money? Are you benchmarking what you spend on goods and services compared to other schools?
- Plan before you procure – make sure you know what you need to buy and that it will meet your school’s needs over time. How will you make sure you are getting value for money?
- Consider whether using a framework might assist – this can remove some of the burden, as suppliers on the framework have been pre-approved.
- Follow the correct procedures – the website has a set of helpful checklists you can use for low-value, medium-value and high-value procurements.
- Don’t put the signed contract in a drawer – this is a common mistake. Keep it under regular review to make sure your supplier is doing everything they should be doing. Also keep written records of anything you do, as this will help if there is a dispute.
- Learn lessons from your previous buying experiences and make sure you implement changes to make your processes more streamlined and efficient.
Buying ICT for your school
The competition regulator recently published the results of an investigation into the supply of ICT to the public sector. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it showed that suppliers had the upper hand over their public sector customers in terms of their ICT knowledge, and public sector buyers lacked sufficient expertise to procure or manage ICT contracts effectively. We wrote about this recently. Coincidentally (or maybe not?) the DfE has published a suite of detailed guidance on buying ICT, including developing a statement of requirements, tendering hints and tips and model ICT services contracts, as well as contract management.
Finally, the collection contains a range of templates such as example contracts for goods and services, a purchase order, a contract variation agreement and a range of template letters to send to successful and unsuccessful bidders.
Take legal advice
Whilst this guidance is very helpful, it is still worth taking legal advice before starting a procurement process or signing (or varying) a contract. Walker Morris has helped a number of schools and other public sector bodies with their contracts and is on a number of local authority frameworks, so when you need legal advice you may be able to instruct us through a framework.