No incentive to buy together, say school purchasers

29 September 2015

Suppliers to the education sector should help schools embrace collaborative purchasing, according to school procurement professionals.

Almost three quarters of respondents to a poll, carried out by Incensu.co.uk, said they had considered buying in bulk. But 52 per cent said there were no incentives for them to purchase jointly with other schools.

More than half of school business managers, heads and governors said their school had generated savings by purchasing goods and services with other schools, but 49 per cent said they had not. Some 28 per cent said they had a partnership agreement that supported joint purchasing with other schools, but 70 per did not.

The third annual National School Procurement Survey asked school business managers, finance directors, bursars, heads and governors which factors would encourage them to start working collaboratively with other schools.

Suppliers permitting collaborative purchasing by groups of schools was one of the top factors, identified in 46 per cent of responses, along with more time, legal frameworks and more training.

Lack of time was the identified as the chief barrier to collaborative purchasing in 72 per cent of responses. Incensu said the research showed there was also a problem with a lack of expertise within schools, and there was a perception that a collaborative approach was still struggling to be regarded as a priority within schools.

The survey also revealed concerns about school budgets have grown significantly since last year’s survey. Funding was a concern for 54 per cent of respondents in 2014, but has risen further to 76 per cent this year.

The most likely to way to deal with funding challenges, was ‘staff optimisation’ – getting the best value from existing staffing levels – cited by almost half of respondents. This was ahead of more collaboration (30 per cent) and a review of procurement practices (15 per cent).

Peter Melville, a school business director and co-founder of Incensu, said the survey demonstrated schools were increasingly aware of the importance of collaborative purchasing for saving money as funding fears grew, but they needed support, training and time to make the most of it.

“It also shows that the businesses who supply goods and services to schools should step up and work more closely with the education sector to make it easier for schools to access the benefits of collaborative purchasing,” he said.

“We’re encouraging this approach amongst suppliers through our school supplier register, which allows suppliers to let schools know whether they permit collaborative purchasing in bulk, but there is a sense that this approach needs to be replicated across the education sector as a whole for the benefit of schools and school suppliers”.

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