Navigating the Challenges of Public Procurement
The UK leaving the EU in December 2020 raised questions this year on the impact of procurement within education and concerns about new legislation to consider when setting up or renewing contracts. It is just as important as it always has been to make sure that when public money is being spent, it is done in a compliant manner. The EU procurement thresholds still apply because they are written into UK law as part of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015. This means you must follow the regulations for anything that is over threshold.
Any contracts that have a value under the thresholds, you need to follow the procedures that are set out in your school or Trust’s procurement or financial policy. The current thresholds can be found here and remember the values are for the lifetime of the contract, not per annum.
The UK Government ran a consultation on their green paper ‘Transforming Procurement Post-Brexit’ in January. The proposals are intended to shape the future of public procurement and aim to speed up and simplify procurement processes, as well as provide more value for money and increased transparency. We will provide more information on this when it is available but in the interim, we wanted to understand the pain points within procurement in the sector, to make sure our services and framework solutions are fit for purpose and aligned correctly to help support members. We studied some independent research from National Education Research Panel, which was carried out in May this year, around school procurement and how contracts are set up for things like utilities, facilities management and catering.
The research indicated that more facilities management contracts are being used in education than ever before, with 8% more primary and 12% more secondary schools recording use in 2021 than in 2020. It highlighted that schools are most likely to have difficulties in finding and acting on information regarding this broad category of services. This research also confirmed that although value for money is still top of the agenda when arranging new contracts, support and compliance were rated very highly too, and this was a common theme in both secondary and primary schools.
These findings are consistent with our own research into how procurement differs now with schools and trusts procuring their own contracts when they move out of their local authority. As a result of these trends and a changing marketplace, we set up our education procurement team in 2020 to help bridge the gap. This team are dedicated solely to helping schools and Trusts with their procurements from start to finish, with support and guidance every step of the way including running the further competitions and managing clarifications.
The research showed that 73% of primary schools are likely to speak to colleagues when researching service contract providers, either in their own MAT or other Trusts. Although secondary schools tend to refer to a wider range of sources, 55% were still likely to speak to colleagues for recommendations, advice and to get an idea of things to consider from the experience of others.
It is just as important as it always has been to make sure that when public money is being spent, it is done in a compliant manner.
When schools come to set up or renew contracts, significantly more schools than last year highlighted the contribution case studies can make in their decisions. We strongly believe that case studies and peer to peer recommendations are very important, so with this in mind YPO are hosting a webinar in partnership with the STAR Multi-Academy Trust and CST in July. The session is designed to give an overview of facilities management as a category, provide best practice advice on timelines and things to consider when reviewing your contracts. It will also include some tips on how to get the most out of your contract by writing a thorough specification and specific award criteria, that will fulfil your objectives including areas such as social and added value.
We would recommend including ‘Added Value’ as one of your award criteria. When running a cleaning or catering service, we recommend allocating 20% to Added Value, which means you can ask suppliers what they can bring to your contract and allows you to be able to score their responses as part of your evaluation. For example, can catering suppliers offer added value services such as delivering classroom workshops or providing educational cookery shows? Things like teaching children about where the food on their plates comes from can help promote a healthy relationship with food and start to tackle childhood obesity early on.