Procuring Effectively for Economies of Scale (Part 2)

Independent educational consultant John Leonard recently wrote a blog for us about the most important things that MATs should consider before setting out to procure, including knowing exactly what it is that you want to get from your new system and how procurement can help you achieve economies of scale.

Part 1 went over the reasons why MATs should procure and explained what you need to know beforehand. This second part of the blog will cover the timescale of implementing your new system (when), which sites will this system impact (where) and finally some helpful guidelines and government specifications (how). We’ve transcribed part two of his presentation below! 

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In my last blog, I spoke about how procurement is key to helping MATs achieve economies of scale, as well as the most important factors to consider for MATs setting out to procure. In this blog, I’ll go on to talk about the rest of the procurement toolbox, including the when, the where and the how of procurement.


4. When do you need this system to be in place

Allowing sufficient time for a well run procurement exercise starts long before you start writing the tender document. A typical timeline looks something like this (your experience and the scope of the procurement will cause this to vary, of course):

  • Initial requirement definition: finding your champions, getting their opinion, turning that into a draft specification
  • Refine the requirement: get together as a group to review the draft and find out what you don’t know
  • Market testing: get suppliers to review your spec, present their solutions, and make suggestions
  • Re-refine the requirement: agree what your final spec will be now you have some market intelligence
  • Write your tender: concentrate on your requirements and the scoring criteria; the rest can be based on standard templates
  • Issue a contract notice: (guidance online will help you do this)
  • Issue your tender to interested suppliers
  • Allow 30 days for tender clarifications, etc.
  • Close your tender and evaluate results
  • Announce the successful supplier
  • Provide feedback to all bidders
  • Allow a 10 day standstill
  • Start contract negotiations
  • Commence pilot (if applicable)
  • Test with your pilot group
  • Larger scale rollout

That’s a lot to cover, but doing all of that will make sure you get the results you want. If you rush it, you’ll hate the results or something won’t work. As a rule of thumb, allocate about half your time to speccing the requirement, 25% to the procurement, and 25% to award negotiations.

5. Where will the system go?

You have a number of factors to consider here. First, and most obvious, how many sites/staff/students is this system going to impact? The larger the number of sites, the better your economies of scale, but the larger the number of opinions and input you’re going to need to get something that works for everybody. Also consider what other systems or methods of work this solution has an effect on. Does your solution integrate? What other systems must change to accommodate your preferred technology?

And while we mentioned “when” as a measure of the procurement timeline, also think about the future. Can this solution scale to add more academies, thousands more students and staff, and still do so at an effective cost? Your tender document will need to spell out the number of staff and students who will be expected to use your system, where they are, and what the likelihood is of additional users/sites joining the system later. 

If you want to scope the tender to allow you to add further sites later on - or even create a mini framework to add other MATs later - your tender document is where you need to state this; it will make suppliers far more likely to be clear about their terms or be prepared to offer better ones for the chance at more business in the future.

6. How do I start? 

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/public-sector-procurement-policy: This should be your starting point as it gives a lot of information about current procurement guidance.
https://www.gov.uk/guidance/transposing-eu-procurement-directives#guidance - this page goes into a lot more detail about the specifics of EU compliant public procurement.

Remember, the threshold at present is £181,302 - that’s the ex VAT total contract value of the solution you’re procuring. Anything over that, and you will have to follow public contract regulations (PCR). Unless you’re substantially under that value, it helps to use the PCR as a guideline for procurement - that way you know you’re not going to be challenged (or at least the chances are minimal)

Take advice and guidance from procurement agents if you can. One I can recommend is 4C (https://www.4c.co.uk/) - they have a lot of experience and can do as much or as little of the procurement exercise as you need.

Last but not least - it bears repeating - please be sure that your requirements are clear, documented well, and explained where there is room for ambiguity. If a requirement is not clear, you’ll know straight away, as suppliers will bombard you with clarification requests. The less ambiguity you have, the easier it is to procure, score, and award contracts. Remember to base these on expected outcomes rather than being too specific. All of this removes the chance of nasty surprises later on.

In Summary
Effective procurement is about getting what you want, for the best price you can afford.
Having clear, agreed answers to the previous points will make your journey so much easier, and will reap rewards countless times over. Allowing yourself time to define the requirements and run the procurement in an orderly fashion will make a big difference when it comes to appointing a supplier, and using the scale of your MAT will also enable you to leverage benefits that can’t be matched by individual academies.

We’ll be posting the rest of the presentations from our MAT conference over the next few weeks, so keep an eye on the blog for updates! In the meantime, take a look at what our CEO James Weatherill has to say on how to manage change in schools

Recommended reading:
How and when to change systems within your MAT
3 ways of centralising data for schools, MATs and LAs
Questions you should ask your MIS about GDPR