Under public procurement rules in education anything over £172k must be tendered via an OJEU process.
The two most common processes that schools use are as follows:
- Open procedure – where advertised tenders invite interested parties to submit tenders by a set date. These are evaluated and contracts are awarded to the winning party/parties.
- Restricted procedure – which takes two stages. In the first, selection stage, a shortlist of suppliers is identified – usually by means of a pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ). In the second stage suppliers are invited to respond to an invitation to tender (ITT). These returned tenders are evaluated and the contracts awarded.
There are a number of reasons why you would use one route rather than the other but, generally, the category of service contract that you are procuring and the time that you have available will dictate the route you need to use.
Things to be aware of:
Aggregation matters. Don’t be fooled into thinking that by only letting a one-year contract you can get round the rules; you can’t. An auditor will look at the length of the relationship with a supplier and add together the amount that you have spent with them, irrespective of length of time.
Legal challenges are becoming more prevalent. With schools joining together and MATs undertaking trust-wide procurements, contract values are increasing. This provides excellent opportunities to secure better value but also means that we are seeing an increase in disgruntled suppliers raising legal challenges, particularly if they come second. Your process must be exact, thorough and very detailed.
TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981) will nearly always apply. Going down the outsourced route doesn’t necessarily mean that you will immediately resolve any staffing issues but it does mean that performance becomes a key indicator that the supplier becomes responsible for.
Local government pension schemes (LGPS). Where staff are entitled to LGPS this may limit the number of suppliers that bid for your work due to them having to apply for ‘admitted body status’.
Timescales. The process takes time. Allow six months for an open procedure, slightly less for a restricted procedure. Broadly apply the following principles:
- PQQ 30 days
- ITT 30 days
- Assessment of all bids 10/20 days
- Standstill 10 days.
Contracts must be read thoroughly and anything that you don’t understand should be questioned. If you don’t have a great attention to detail enlist the help of someone who does!
Relationships are key. The success of any new contract is down to how the relationship between the school and the new contractor is managed. Address issues early and document the agreed actions.