One of the main drivers of change in the Public Contracts Regulations of 2015 was to create a more open playing field for SMEs. This was brought about through a number of initiatives including the advertising of opportunities on Contracts Finder and improved payment terms for invoices.
It seems strange then that a part of the public sector should be made exempt from these requirements, namely maintained schools and academies especially considering that they are prime customers for small local businesses.
What are maintained schools and academies?
A maintained school is a school that is funded by the local education authority (local government). The official definition is outlined in Section 19 (1) of the Education Act 2002.
Academies are funded by central government, are run by an academy trust and some have sponsors from the business sector, faith groups voluntary groups etc. The official definition is outlined in Section 579 (1) of the Education Act 1996.
What are they exempt from?
- Regulation 106 – The requirement to publish contract notices to Contracts Finder
- Regulations 108/110/112 – The requirement to publish contract award notices to Contracts Finder
- Regulation 113 – The requirement to pay invoices within 30 days of receipt
Why are they exempt from these regulations?
In discussions with the Department for Education the Crown Commercial Service determined that the additional administrative burden these regulations would create would be too much for each individual school or academy to manage. While this is undoubtedly true the same could also be said of a number of smaller public sector bodies who are struggling to come to terms with the changes to the regulations and the changes in process that have come with them.
What does that mean for suppliers?
The main issue will be knowing where to find contract opportunities for educational establishments. You would need to be aware of all the establishments within the locations you wanted to work in and then proactively check their tendering page/portal and engage with them one on one to establish a relationship with them. Another option would be to use your Tenders Direct subscription to have these opportunities filtered by our team and emailed directly to you.
Also, if you are a small supplier or one who relies on a very strict cash-flow from work to invoice to payment then you might want to consider the implications of maintained schools and academies not having to pay their supply chain in 30 days. You would want to look at what there terms were and see if you could set up a specific agreement where necessary.
Overall the exemptions are entirely rational and justified. It just seems a shame that the greatest impact of them will hit SME suppliers who may not have the resources to search for tender opportunities for each establishment.