Smarter procurement part 1: school business management and procurement

What are the pinch points faced by SBMs when it comes to procurement? How are schools and academies overcoming these to deliver better outcomes for students? In partnership with GLS Educational Supplies, we undertook in-depth research, which included a reader survey, to find out.

In this, part one, we explore some of the key findings

While schools spend, on average, three-quarters of their budget on staff, collectively they spend approximately £10 billion on non-staff costs including back office, classroom resources, facilities management, IT and catering. Schools continue to build and exercise business acumen, identifying ways they can augment budgets with additional funding; SBMs are sweating the assets, collaborating and achieving economies of scale, managing and outsourcing their resources. They are procuring these resources as effectively and efficiently as possible – all the while juggling the education, health and safety and wellbeing of students.

A crisis for funding, a catalyst for change

Funding has become a catalyst for change in how schools operate, are managed and, thus, how they procure, all of which has, subsequently, impacted the SBM role. As financial management in schools becomes more complex, it requires more time and greater skills and SBMs are bearing the brunt of this. Our survey found that 70% of SBMs believe funding is the single greatest challenge faced by schools, and 73% of SBMs ‘strongly agree’ that, year-on-year, their school is having to do more with less funding and fewer resources.

In addition to covering the strategic and operational management – finances, premises and facilities, HR, marketing and communications and more – they’re responsible for procurement. Pulled in every direction, and under pressure to tread the financial tightrope, it is essential that they engage in smarter procurement.

Cutting spend without cutting resources; a smarter revolution

A crisis of funding means that difficult decisions must be made. Staff spend is one area for potential savings – SBMs cited staff spend as the number one place to make savings (47%) – but schools are looking for alternatives and, although many have pared spend back to a minimum, smarter procurement could provide a welcome solution. Smarter procurement requires that SBMs have the right relationships and skills in order to be smart consumers – supported by practical help and advice – and to have access to the best value every time.

Challenges to procurement; time is a resource that needs to be reclaimed

Inevitably, the path to procurement is laden with challenges. There are technical obstacles that SBMs must navigate; for example, when asked which areas posed the greatest challenge when it comes to procurement a significant 67% said ‘comparing products or services to get the best deal’ and 21% cited the time the procure-to-pay cycle takes to complete.

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Time – or rather the lack it – was highlighted as a particular challenge. When asked whether time constraints or budget constraints pose the greater challenge to procurement 51% of survey respondents said time constraints while 44% cited budget constraints; in essence, SBMs are time-poor.

A case for quality, a drive for efficiency

While cost savings are essential to managing blighted budgets, SBMs are seeking value-for-money purchases – quality products at the right price. We asked survey participants about their top considerations when procuring. The majority said quality of product or service (85%), closely followed by the cost of the product or service (68%) and the whole-life cost of the product or service (47%). The efficiency of the procurement process (30%), the environmental benefit of the product or service (12%) and the brand (3%) all ranked lower for those responding.

Developing a school-wide understanding of purchasing needs and power

Not only is procurement a task that most often falls to a school’s SBM, their responsibilities are only vaguely understood by the wider school community. Over the course of our research we noted a tendency to let the SBM fight the good procurement fight alone, along with a lack of understanding among the wider-school community of the commercial procurement process and its importance.

We sought to ascertain the level of involvement of the wider school community in the procurement process, asking ‘How aware are teaching and support staff of the procurement process?’ More than half (56%) of respondents agreed that colleagues were aware of the school’s procurement process; however, 34% said that colleagues believe there is an infinite money tree! Only 11% said they were aware of, trained and involved in, the school’s procurement process.

For smarter procurement to be embedded in a school’s culture requires a school-wide understanding of the procurement process and why it’s there.

Smarter procurement; a practical guide to improving value efficiency looks in more detail at these key findings, and makes some key recommendations for schools seeking to implement smarter procurement processes. You can read the full report here.

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  1. Smarter procurement part 4: attention to process, streamlining procurement – Edexec.co.uk

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