The Government has pledged the biggest increase in a decade to core school and college funding. Overall spend will increase by £2.2 billion in 2021-22 and £2.3 billion in 2022-23. This follows a £2.6 billion increase last year. With the college sector subject to public standards of accountability for their spend, how do they ensure effective procurement practices?
In this article, with support from Newcastle College Group, Key Account Manager Conor Neild-Crabb examines how frameworks can help support the college sector and the many benefits it can offer our education clients.
The Benefits of Framework Procurement for Colleges
Colleges must ensure that the money they receive is spent in a way that is fair, transparent, and good value for money. Good procurement decisions can avoid a failure to comply with procurement legislation that could result in legal challenges from suppliers, cancelled contracts and financial penalties. All of which can be expensive, time-consuming and reputation damaging. The buying process is typically broken down into three key stages – planning, purchasing, and managing. But with funding in the college sector being so sporadic, when a budget becomes available it is very often needed to be spent quickly, leaving very little time for the planning stage. This is where a procurement framework can add real value to the buying process for colleges.
Frameworks in essence are contracts that have been negotiated by local authorities, central government departments or public buying organisations to get compliant and best value agreements from suppliers. These organisations then make these deals available to colleges and other public sector bodies. The guidance and support offered by a procurement framework is invaluable to the college sector who often lack an experienced internal team adept in delivering Capital projects. Frameworks have already undergone a competitive tendering process; they comply with public sector procurement regulations and favourable terms and conditions have already been negotiated. Colleges can carry out a ‘mini-competition’ involving relevant suppliers on the framework who can bid for the contract, which is a lot quicker and simpler than setting up a new contract independently.
Call-off Methods and the Advantage of Direct Award
Once an award route for a project has been established, the tendering process can take a ‘single-stage,’ ‘two-stage’ or ‘direct award’ approach. Single-stage tendering is a more traditional fixed cost up front approach separating design and build. Two-stage tendering is a popular method for construction contracts offering flexibility and collaboration on design and build. With a Direct Award route, a framework contractor is directly selected for a project without re-opening competition. Contractors can work under a PCSA to develop any remaining design or the project can be fully re-priced. This certainly has its advantages where a professional services team or contractor needs to be appointed quickly as soon as funding becomes available. A professional procurement framework organisation can help guide and assist with the best call-off method for your College’s project.
Future Funding for College T-Levels
T-Levels are a new alternative to A-Levels, apprenticeships and other 16-19 courses. Equivalent to three A-Levels, a T-Level focuses on vocational skills that can help students into skilled employment, higher education, or apprenticeships. Each T-Level includes an in-depth industry placement that lasts at least 45 days. Students gain valuable experience in the workplace; employers gain an early insight into the new talent in their industry. The first ten T-Levels are available at selected colleges now, with the remaining courses being rolled out over the next two years. The Government recognise that significant additional funding is needed for the successful introduction and delivery of T-Levels and have announced additional funding of £500 million a year, to help providers meet the costs of additional teaching hours, organising industry placements and delivering purpose-built teaching facilities.
We are proud to be involved with the £2.6m Cardinal Newman College project. A dedicated learning campus for students to study T-Level courses. Crossfield Construction secured the three-storey building project in Preston through the Procure Partnerships Framework. We work with colleges like Cardinal Newman to build the tender documents and achieve the best cost to quality ratio, support throughout the procurement process and award the best contractor for successful project delivery. We remain on-hand throughout the life of the contract to offer support and assistance.
Schools and colleges are required to advertise contracts relating to non-specialist educational products or services with a value more than £189,330, and for works over the value of £4,733,252, through the newly formed Find a Tender Service (FTS); the UK’s post-Brexit equivalent of the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU). Some services for education, health and care are covered by the ‘light touch regime’. The threshold for these is £663,540. Time limits for the tender procedure must be clearly outlined, early decisions on the criteria for the award of the contract need to be made and fair competition from foreign suppliers must be ensured. Unsuccessful tenderers should receive constructive feedback and the project will need to be well manged in collaboration with the successful service provider or contractor. There are existing contract and framework agreements in place for the Education sector, including Crown Commercial Service (CCS), The Crescent Purchasing Consortium (CPC), Pro5, and through a local authority, all founded to ensure schools and colleges receive competitive pricing for goods and services.
Buying Better with Framework Support
Value for money is not always about securing the lowest price. Procuring through a framework and engaging with a professional procurement framework organisation will ensure the right balance between quality and cost. Efficient procurement practices through frameworks allow colleges to make financial savings that can be re-invested in other areas to improve performance and standards. Frameworks offer the college sector the peace of mind that the goods and services they procure will be fit for purpose, the suppliers and contractors deliver on time and within budget, and legal and financial obligations are complied with.
Noel Proudfoot, Group Procurement Manager, Newcastle College Group, Commented: “Utilising Frameworks such as Procure Partnerships is hugely beneficial to delivering our capital programme efficiently. One of the main issues which can delay our projects, is having the right partners on board at the right time. By using the framework, we are able to access suitable suppliers via a range of compliant call-off methods to fit individual projects and time pressures, whilst having peace of mind in terms of supplier quality vs cost.”