“Potentially dramatic” changes are expected to the supply chain for school uniforms when statutory guidelines come into force next year.
The Schoolwear Association has told its members – which include retailers, direct-to-school suppliers, manufacturers, wholesalers and schools themselves – to familiarise themselves with best practice guidance on purchasing uniforms, which will require schools to tender for school specific uniforms.
The guidelines, originally published in 2013, advised that schools should avoid exclusive single supplier contracts, unless regular tendering competitions are run in which more than one supplier can compete for the contract. In addition, schools should not enter into “cash back” arrangements.
Chancellor George Osborne announced in a report in November 2015, called A better deal, that best practice guidance would be made statutory in 2017, because “the government wants to ensure that effective competition is used to drive better value for money”.
Osborne said making the guidelines compulsory will “ensure that schools deliver the best value for parents by avoiding exclusivity arrangements unless regular competitions for suppliers are run”.
The announcement led to “a rush of enquiries” from schools about how to respond, according to the Schoolwear Association.
“Although we believe that schools generally make sensible and pragmatic decisions about supply, price and the balance of school uniform, we welcome the changes as we believe they will create greater certainty for schools,” said association chairman David Burgess.
“However, this will have an impact on the industry and we are advising members to contact us to ensure they prepare efficiently.”
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has advised school governing boards to ensure there is competition between suppliers and retailers and urged suppliers and retailers to check they are not in breach of competition law by having exclusive supply arrangements in place.
“The Competition and Markets Authority has said it will monitor the effect of the rules to ensure that schools and suppliers comply with competition law,” Burgess added. “It is important that the industry responds to this, and as an association we have promised our cooperation with the CMA.”