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April 2019
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Feeling the squeeze?

Melanie Teal, Chief Executive of The Consortium, the UK’s largest independent provider of school supplies, with over 30,000 products from school stationery to school furniture, looks at how resource budgets can be consolidated and money can be saved how this can benefit the whole school or college.

Schools and colleges are hard pushed and budgets are already squeezed. Whether it’s rising fuel and lighting costs bringing in unexpected costs or declining parental contributions and donations driven by the recession, many external factors are affecting how schools can stretch their often limited resources budget.

Melanie Teal explains: -Making sure you get value for money is one way of stretching any budget and has increasingly become an important priority for all those involved in ensuring schools and colleges have the right essential supplies to help deliver a high quality education. But when you are in a sector where purchasing expertise isn’t a natural requirement of the job it can quickly turn into a headache as you weigh up the pitfalls and benefits of different suppliers.” From Melanie’s experience she can recommend two approaches to any education leader looking to get the best value from its resource budget.

1. Consolidate. In recent years there has been a major focus on how schools and colleges buy. In many cases, this has resulted in an increase in the number of suppliers being used as schools have sought the lowest price for specific types of goods. The downside of this is a corresponding increase in the administrative impact of managing supplies and the disruption attached to the increased number of deliveries. So, finding suppliers who are competitively priced across a comprehensive range of products can help schools consolidate orders (and deliveries) as well as contributing positively to the environment.

2. Let schools get on and teach. The reality is that providing education has to come first and it isn’t always easy to find the time to searching out the best deal. Many teachers and school leaders end up doing this in their own time. The good news is that suppliers are out there who can help with all aspects of a school’s day to day curriculum and maintenance needs. Many of these suppliers are happy to look at a school’s overall spending requirements and tailor an offer for them. This one-off negotiation can then free up valuable and busy staff to get on with their vital role of teaching the children or managing the school. A number of local authorities have done this negotiation on behalf of their schools, e.g. Bristol, Dorset and the Welsh Assembly.

Teal expands:

-Freeing up time for either administrative or leadership staff is just one way a good resource supplier can help a school. For example easy returns, guaranteed next day delivery and even a friendly voice at the end of the phone can allow schools to reap benefits in terms of ordering their resources and quickly moving on to get their job done. This allows leadership teams and support staff to focus on the bigger things in life – namely, delivering first class education.

Case study: Manor Lodge School, a co-educational private school in Shenley, Hertfordshire with pupils ranging from 4 to 18 gradually switched its main stationery orders, its arts and crafts orders and its exercise book orders to The Consortium. The school’s purchasing manager Melanie Jawett said:

-Two years ago we started switching our orders to one supplier, The Consortium. The quality of goods, service and delivery was so high and we were particularly pleased to get all the packages individually marked as requested so we could distribute straight to classes and match the different invoices against our own systems. I estimate this has saved us at least two days work!”

Advice and guidance: The Consortium has produced some new advice and guidance to help schools and colleges countering the squeeze.

1. Whether its classroom resources, exercise books or outdoor play equipment it shouldn’t be about buying the cheapest. With high use items they need to stand the test of time so it’s important to weigh up value and hardwearing factors as well as looking at the whole-life cost of bigger spend items.

2. Look at ways technology can you save you money and help the environment. For example, many schools are seeing the benefit of online resources and whiteboard technology in bringing down the cost, both in time and paper, of endless printing and photocopying.

3. Try to encourage a staff policy of planning in advance so you aren’t racing to buy against a deadline and ensure you get what you need at key times of the year.

4. Look to build relationships with a small number of good suppliers and give staff clear guidance on who to use for what. This will speed up the buying process and reduce administrative complexity. There should be a spin off environmental benefit in reducing the number of discrete deliveries. If you choose suppliers who are also environmentally focused, you should do even better.

5. Research what all the different companies offer. Check for hidden charges on small orders, next day deliver or when returning goods. Can you place orders at times and in ways to suit you? Can you speak to a real person if you have a problem?

6. Take advantage of, and seek out, discounts. Particularly if you can take deliveries in larger quantities.

7. Check that what you are buying is fit for purpose. This works both ways, buying a premium product when a budget will do is just as wasteful as buying a poor quality product when a better one is needed.

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