Sunday, 15 September 2013

An alternative option for school uniform procurement

First thing I heard on 'the box' today were the Lib Dems plans to break the self-inflicted monopoly power of single-source school uniform suppliers over schools. The power is derived from the schools over-specfiying on the uniform and enabling the supplier to charge excessive prices ('rents'). New guidance is proposed.  But is there a better way? I think there is.

The easy answer is to use public procurement collaborative buying and provide access to the contracts for all parents. You can still have schools differentiating on the choice of uniform, if they want but first industrialise through simplifying the uniforms, standardising, and then sharing the contracting. Those letting the contracts could view this as a social benefit. You could also look at more functional uniforms taking into consideration running costs (wear and tear, washing, etc.) and durability and refreshing.

Of course you could always use the purchase of school uniforms as part of the school curriculum. If schools want to opt out of using existing collaborative buying organisations, they could have support from local CPOs volunteering their time to support the procurement. Business Studies and Economics classes could work out which schools or public bodies it would be most advantageous to collaborate with in procurement (say, all those who want green blazers); Art and Technology classes design the uniforms. Let's face it, at the present time we have pupils leaving school who understand what marketing is about but have no grasp of procurement.

Even more radical, would it be at all possible, given the changes in child benefit, for school uniforms to be provided by the state. That would cut the nonsense of 'elitist uniform snobbery', place the uniform in the context of education budgets (after all one of their most passionate advocates in the Education Secretary) and the cost would be borne by those who insist they are necessary as opposed to locking parents into bad deals which they have no choice but to pay for.

To me the Lib Dems have missed the more innovative way of solving the problem.

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