26 April 2007 | Antony Barton
Further education colleges could still achieve £75 million savings by March next year, despite poor procurement infrastructure.
Ian Taylor, commercial director at the Department for Education and Skills, admitted to MPs that inadequate systems and management information were continuing to hinder college procurement.
No more than a quarter of 158 colleges could provide information on their spending in any one of 20 categories, according to the National Audit Office (NAO) October 2006 report Improving procurement in further education colleges in England
Taylor told the Committee of Public Accounts it would be "extremely difficult" but not impossible to achieve the savings predicted by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), from a yearly procurement spend of £1.6 billion.
Mark Haysom, chief executive of the LSC, said early signs were optimistic but more work was required. "There is a whole raft of things that we're trying to do with FE, so to get this particular issue at the heart of what they are doing is tough," he said.
Haysom added LSC was this month writing to all college governing bodies to alert them of ongoing work and to encourage them to raise procurement up the agenda. He said it was working closely with the Crescent Purchasing Consortium, an offshoot of Salford University that has signed up around 300 of the 384 FE colleges. LSC is also working through regional networks to encourage collaborative spending and demonstrate how to conduct appropriate spend analysis.
Haysom said there had been "very good progress" with purchasing cards, with only 65 colleges not using them.
Committee chairman Edward Leigh MP welcomed the possibility of releasing £75 million into education.