Collaboration, automation and better contract management are areas where savings can be made © Getty Images/iStock
Collaboration, automation and better contract management are areas where savings can be made © Getty Images/iStock

'Funding crisis' forces changes to schools' procurement

24 September 2019

A “crisis of funding” has forced schools to change procurement operations and work smarter, according to a report.

The report, by vendor GLS Educational Supplies and publication Education Executive, identified collaborative procurement, automation and better contract management as areas where savings could be made.

A survey of school business managers (SBMs) found 70% said funding was the single greatest challenge faced by schools and 73% “strongly agreed” that, year-on-year, their school is having to do more with less funding and fewer resources.

Respondents said savings could be made through collaborative procurement with other schools (22%) and in better contract management (14%).

More responsibility has fallen on SBMs to balance cost and quality and “demonstrate true value-for-money and not just seek to secure a ‘cheap deal’”, said the report. However, only “11% of SBMs said they’re aware of, trained and involved in the school’s procurement process”.

“Professional development is an essential step towards strengthening the procurement knowledge and expertise of current staff. Improving procurement practice not only ensures compliance, it saves money and, by streamlining the process, shortens the procurement cycle,” said the report.

The report said the Department for Education’s (DfE) buying strategy outlines a plan to make £1bn savings on non-staff spend annually through a more efficient, informed and supported approach. 

However, SBMs said that “spending has already been reduced to bare minimum”. Innovative and automated procurement processes could be the solution to meeting savings goals.

Respondents agreed that smarter procurement is important in making vital cost savings, with 51% saying it was extremely important, 36% responding very important, and 13% saying somewhat important.

Good procurement practices and use of e-procurement technology for purchasing has proven to reduce the time taken to submit orders, prevent human error, and make it easier to compare products, said the report.

Other recommendations included ensuring buyers understand the needs of the school and the wider sector, streamlining procurement processes by automating day-to-day purchases and using pre-approved vendors, and using a value-for-money approach.

Staff spend was identified by almost half of respondents (47%) as an area where savings could be made. Earlier this month, the government announced funding that will help take the strain off staff spend budgets. 

A DfE spokesperson said: “We recently announced a £14bn investment in schools – the biggest cash boost for a decade, which the independent IFS [Institute for Fiscal Studies] has said will restore schools’ funding to previous levels in real terms per pupil by 2022-23.”

Last month, the DfE announced that it is developing a digital service because school procurement systems are “inefficient” and use “time-consuming manual processes”.

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