Procurement Rules Crippled Councils and Now They’re Starting on Academies

Posted: May 6, 2018

Back through the mists of time when flares were fashionable and Margaret Thatcher was busy stealing milk from small children, procurement departments didn’t exist. Most purchases for schools were handled by the local authority and the man responsible for the area that needed to buy something would talk to sales people, peruse catalogues, decide on the best value and buy what was needed. The legal department would ensure contracts for bigger stuff were in place and the accounts department would check the terms and make the payments.

Fast forward to a time when three year olds have mobile phones and grammar schools are threatening a come back, catalogues are online, sales are online, and local authority accounts and legal departments are massively more efficient through technology. The process of buying stuff must be a doddle now! Not at all, there is a new department in the system, Procurement, the place where efficiency and savings go to die!

There is still a man who wants to buy stuff and has the real knowledge about what is needed, he still talks to sales people and peruses catalogues. However, once he has found the best product or service to meet his needs and budget, he now has to hand the job to Procurement. Procurement takes over and feeds the requirement in to a quagmire of bureaucracy to ensure the purchase is within a plethora of competition rules.

Now I have no issue within ensuring best value and compliance with competition rules, my issue is the money wasted in the procurement process and the anti-competitive nature of the process.

Procurement departments in most local authorities are now larger than Accounts and Legal combined. They have devised an anti-competition masterpiece, the framework contract. Instead of buying what they need when they need it at the best price available at the time, they lay out a massive contract for everything they may need in the next five years and run a massive tender exercise to which only the biggest companies can afford to respond. The massive companies then have the monopoly on those services and bully the small guys in their supply chain to work with their often ridiculous price structure.

In my opinion, Procurement has been the main contributory factor in creating the inefficiency we all perceive in our dealings with local authorities.

As the new education landscape of Academies and MATs emerged, a breath of fresh air blew through purchase administration for schools. Some of the early success stories for academy efficiency can be attributed to a light bureaucratic touch and nimbleness with the freedom to make decisions quickly.

I lived through the slow unstoppable growth of Procurement in my dealings with local authorities and witnessed the subsequent death of efficiency. I’ve worked with academies since their inception and can see the first green shoots of procurement as a function starting to take hold and like japanese knotweed, it will grow unchecked and strangle efficiency. The first time I hear an Academy or MAT say the words ‘framework contract’, I think I’ll run for the hills!



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