Less choice means more control for Durham Uni buyers

29 September 2011

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29 September 2011 | Angeline Albert

Buyers should reduce choice to gain more control over spend, the buying team at DurhamUniversity advises.

Speaking to SM, Laura Watson, deputy head of procurement at the university, said standardising products so stakeholder “colleges no longer have as wide a choice”, has cut the number of food suppliers from more than 60 to 15 since 2004.

Slimming down the number of vendors means the number of deliveries to sites has decreased and the amount of packaging waste produced has been cut – resulting in both financial and environmental benefits.

“Savings are categorised three ways: social, environmental and economic. They are recorded on a monthly basis by all staff,” said Watson. “[Purchasers] are not given savings targets but are expected to review where social or environmental savings can be made.”

The procurement function, which spends around £90 million a year annually and consists of 19 people, has been transformed since 2004 when unqualified staff across the university were carrying out buying and too many suppliers were used. Now, the team’s members are either qualified purchasers or are studying to gain procurement qualifications. This includes staff from other departments who now work in the team.

As well as reducing the number of different meat cuts purchased to feed staff and providing training for chefs to make greater use of fewer cuts, chefs also now use standard menu templates and order items via a source-to-pay system.

The ‘acquire’ software, provided by WaxDigital, enables staff to search for goods and services electronically, exchange invoices and conduct tenders and electronic auctions. Currently being piloted by some departments, acquire is expected to be rolled out across the whole organisation.

Watson also explained that “proactive, rather than reactive [estates] maintenance”, had been introduced, where equipment is maintained before breakdowns to gain long-term savings. She also said the purchasing team was engaging early with academics receiving grants to improve the purchase of scientific equipment.

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