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Deciding who should manage procurement in your trust
You need to set the right level of delegation when it comes to procurement, based on what’s right for your trust. Use this guidance to help you decide how centralised your procurement should be, and how to delegate key tasks.
What you need to consider
Exactly how your approach to procurement works will depend on your organisational structure and how you then delegate purchasing and contract management tasks.
Consider the following questions to think about the best structural approach (i.e. what you control centrally, versus how much you delegate).
What are the purchases for?
Are you just purchasing supplies or are you participating in more complicated contracting activities? The degree of standardisation between individual academies' orders influences how they should be handled. If you need multiple contracts for lots of individual academies with different needs, sourcing all the different goods and services centrally could be challenging. It may be easier to let the academies themselves be responsible for sourcing and have them just consult with the central team.
How large is your trust?
If you're managing procurement centrally in a large trust, it can be hard to understand every school's needs. In this case it could be useful to delegate certain tasks to the schools themselves. For example, you could create a short online form which the appropriate school-based staff complete with the key details about their service needs, which you then use to inform the purchase and service levels in the contract.
On the other hand, if your trust is large enough that you have a procurement specialist (or team) in-house, then they're likely to be responsible and accountable for overseeing each element of the procurement process. Part of their job should be about consulting schools annually for feedback, to understand their needs.
Does your trust have clustered or dispersed locations?
Clustered locations can usually have more localised systems due to local familiarity and ease of delivery between different locations. With dispersed locations, the geographic spread can influence certain parts of procurement.
For example, how you measure supplier performance when catering to a school in central London will differ to a school in the countryside - you'd expect, for example, prices and delivery times to differ. These differences may be better understood by the local management than central management, influencing how much authority should be dispersed.
Do you have the right access to external expertise?
This is particularly pertinent for larger purchases, such as commercial leases. Even if your trust has a legal team, they may not have suitable experience. You should carry out a skills audit to see what your internal capabilities are and whether the suitably experienced people will be available for the duration of the project.
How much resource do you have?
This tends to be measured on a 'return on investment figure' - i.e. the cost of the function vs the savings/value it delivers. If you're investing in creating a central procurement team that runs the purchasing and contract management function, with the right expertise, you need it to deliver savings and efficiencies for it to be worth it.
The benefits of different approaches
If you're struggling to decide how to delegate responsibility, this section looks at some of the implications of centralising, partly delegating or fully delegating contract management.
There's no 'correct' approach - think about the questions above and the characteristics of each approach below to decide what works for your trust.
Fully centralised procurement management
With centrally controlled procurement, any discovered efficiencies or changes in policy can be promptly implemented to help every school. Reviewing and monitoring each school will be easier because of the consistency across institutions.
There's also scope for price negotiation if the trust places all of its schools' orders for, for example, facility management supplies together and distributes supplies itself. This has the potential to be more efficient than multiple schools placing individual small-volume orders.
Where there's more centralised buying authority, it’s important for the central team to talk to the people who'll use the goods/service you plan to buy, to take their needs into account.
Centralised contract creation, with local contract maintenance
In this arrangement, the central team creates the contracts. This is beneficial because there'll likely be an official legal/procurement function, or at least greater expertise, in the central team. Schools will be tasked with maintaining the arrangement locally, i.e. receiving the supplies or services, giving feedback to central office and requesting changes. This lets schools focus more on providing their main services.
It must be made easy for schools to let the central authority know what they need. If there are large fluctuations in demands there might be a lot of time spent asking the central team to make adjustments. If your trust has very geographically dispersed schools, does the central team understand each regional market? Do they know the local suppliers who can better serve in that area?
It could be the case here that although the central team is responsible for contract creation, schools could go through areas of the contract register with the central team ahead of time, to help them understand different needs that need to be reflected in the contract, e.g. how long they want it to be, whether they want an extension term, who owns the intellectual property, etc.
Local contract creation with centralised contract management
The inverse of the above arrangement. The central team would still have opportunities to find efficiencies across all schools and set overarching policies/procedures, but schools would take on the contract setting functions as covered in our article on putting a contract in place.
Fully delegated control to schools
This can lead to easier delivery management, as schools can schedule locally for when deliveries of supplies best suit them. They'll also be able to vary orders themselves to suit seasonal demand, rather than having to ask the central team to do this for them.
One-off contracts may be better handled by the school requiring those goods, because going through the central team could slow the process down. If it's one-off, there's no potential for long-term consolidation, so no benefit to looking for crossover opportunities with other contracts across the trust.
Local control can encourage creativity, giving schools the incentive to make processes simpler, which could result in transformative changes.
If taking this approach, make sure there are procedures in place to support communication and sharing of knowledge across the trust as a whole. Even if you have targets and incentives for efficient contract management, make sure you encourage sharing of innovative methods (rather than schools keeping them to themselves to get the incentives).
This approach is also dependent on how you manage centralised finances. Even if there's full school control for contracting, there's less flexibility to enact this if you have a greater central control of their budget and spending.
A combined approach
The more you can standardise your approach, the easier you may find things - but an entirely centralised or entirely local function may not be possible. You might have a mix of approaches across different purchases.
For example, if you have one special school in a trust of otherwise mainstream schools, you might manage most contracts for 'standardised' items centrally - e.g. energy providers, broadband, grounds maintenance - but some purchases will always be specific to that school and therefore make sense to delegate.
Deciding who will manage particular tasks
The sections above look at your 'macro' approach to procurement in your trust - i.e your organisational approach. But you then need to consider the 'micro' element - namely, the role of the individuals within that.
Decide your approach
Procurement is more of a cyclical process than an end-to-end journey. Once you've planned and followed a purchasing process, you'll create and sign a contract, and then you'll manage that contract and the relationship with that supplier. But how you manage that contract, and strategic decisions you make, will inform future purchases.
Think about where you want people to be involved throughout. Remember that whoever's managing a contract should also have participated in the process of requesting tenders to some degree, so they know exactly what's expected from the contract, and to present a consistent front to the supplier. But no individual can manage every purchase and every contract entirely on their own.
When it comes to individuals' roles, you can either:
- Have a single person to take care of all aspects for a certain good/service - or a number of goods/services, or
- Assign a team who'll manage individual aspects across all contracts
You don't have to assign tasks purely within a central procurement team; the team approach works even if you're delegating tasks to individual schools. And as with your organisational approach, you may have a mixture of these options.
For example, with high-value contracts or important suppliers you might take the opportunity to split responsibilities among a team, with each person or part of the team specialising in a certain area. But for low value and low importance contracts, or contracts that are specific to one school, you're more likely to be able to delegate all tasks to an individual.
Record the people involved on each contract
Follow a RACI approach for each purchase. This'll help you stay on top of who's responsible for what, especially if you use a mixture of the 2 approaches above. Identify all the people involved in the contract (internally) and list them along the top of the chart, with each of the tasks along the side. Then use the chart to denote who will be:
- Responsible: actually carrying out the action
- Accountable: responsible for ensuring the action takes place (can only be one)
- Consulted: their views need to be considered
- Informed: but they have no decision making or influencing role
We've created a template to help you do this. You don't have to use the same broad areas we've used, and you can add more tasks for each of the areas if you need to.
If you're unsure who should be responsible for each task, conduct a quick skills audit. This could be a subjective decision made by management, or you could ask staff to recommend employees they think would be suited for certain roles.
Now you've thought about your structural approach and assigned the right people, check out our guidance on:
- Planning procurement (including how to write a specification and business case, and how to choose the right buying process)
- Putting a contract in place
- Managing a contract
We created this content with Upside Projects, a consultancy that aims to transform public services through technology-led change.
Upside Projects has 25 years of experience delivering complex, technology-enabled change and innovation programmes in all areas of the UK public sector. In education, it provides commercial and supply chain related support to MATs to help them drive greater value out of schools' non-staff spend, while also working with suppliers to release value that can be reinvested in education.
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