'Monumental mistake' for university sector buyers to forget sustainability during austerity

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
3 April 2014

☛ Want the latest procurement and supply chain news delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for the Supply Management Daily 

3 April 2014 | Will Green

It would be a “monumental mistake” for buyers to put sustainability on the back burner due to the economic climate, according to the head of the London Universities Purchasing Consortium (LUPC).

Andy Davies, director of the LUPC, said the pressures of austerity meant it was “easy to forget” that procurement could be a “tool for affecting social change globally”.

Davies was speaking following the LUPC 2014 Conference, where he announced new frameworks covering waste management, business travel and taxi services.

He said the LUPC, which handled £171 million of spend in 2012/13 and delivered £27.9 million of savings, had moved into a new area with a framework for occupational health services. Another new framework for temporary agency staff gives universities the option of partnering with the private sector to set up their own in-house agency.

“My worry is that in difficult times and times of austerity it’s tempting to put sustainability on the back burner. I think that’s a monumental mistake,” he said, adding that LUPC was working with Electronics Watch and the Ethical Trading Initiative. He said the problems associated with working conditions in Chinese factories making electronic goods “could be solved with 50 cents on the price of a smartphone and a dollar on a tablet”.

“It could be so easy to forget that procurement is not just a tool for saving a few bob. It’s a tool for affecting social change globally,” he said.

Davies said the indications were that the sector, which in England has a total annual income of £25 billion, was currently “over the 20 per cent mark” in relation to a target that 30 per cent of spend should be through collaborative procurement arrangements by September 2016.

But he said the biggest challenge faced by buyers in the sector was adapting to the “semi competitive environment that the sector finds itself in now”, including potential new models for delivering back office functions, student accommodation and infrastructure.

“Because it has become more competitive, universities and colleges are going to have a greater commercialism,” he said. “That’s going to bring with it pressures and risks.

“That’s going to present a whole range of commercial risks and it’s going to be down to procurement professionals to manage this change and contribute to the competitive advantage of the institution.”

Davies also warned there was a “big debate” about whether higher education institutions fell under the definition of contracting authorities in terms of EU procurement rules, and whether student loans were public or private funds. “If you’re looking to rely on exemption from the EU directives it’s probably best to get the opinion of a QC,” he said.

Calderbridge, Seascale
£52,518 - £64,233
Den Haag
EUR100000 - EUR120000 per annum + Bonus & Benefits
Bramwith Consulting
CIPS Knowledge
Find out more with CIPS Knowledge:
  • best practice insights
  • guidance
  • tools and templates