Roundtable: Purchasing Power – Matthew White

In the first in our series, Steve Wright quizzes five experts on the key issues, pitfalls and best practice in university procurement

Matthew White is Chair of TUCO

Q. What exactly constitutes effective procurement? Is it simply about getting the best price-to-quality ratio in each sector of university life or is there much more to it?

It’s so much more than being just about price. While cost plays an important factor, in catering procurement we are also looking for quality, consistency, food chain safety, provenance and sustainability.

The university experience is being scrutinised like never before – and not just from an academic point of view, but also from a lifestyle and experiential one. Areas such as sport and catering facilities now play an extremely important part in a student’s decision-making process about which university to pick. Catering, and its procurement, has never been so important to get right.

At TUCO we have developed TUCO Online, a revolutionary web-based eProcurement system which provides a solution for procurement teams to manage and control supplier trading relationships, plus our Further Competition Service offers bespoke buying support. It includes benchmarking of service levels, scrutinising spend data and negotiating better prices. Like our TUCO Online service, it is free to members.

Q. How much of the procurement process can be carried out in-house, and how much benefits from specialist external oversight?

With the right training and knowledge base, procurement can, of course, be dealt with in-house. However, our members have told us that they find a CIPS-qualified procurement team an invaluable asset to their own staff, and recognise the value in both cost and time savings which can be made by bringing in external procurement specialists.

TUCO is committed to delivering procurement savings, and in this era of constant downward pressure, our ambition is to help universities achieve value for money across their procurement.

Our combined spend, which is in excess of £146m, helps to drive down costs and maximise quality for our members. We are currently trusted to work with more than 120 universities and 200 colleges, alongside many more public sector organisations.

With commercial success at the forefront of university strategy, specialist procurement expertise can help deliver those much-needed savings and quality control integrity.

Q. Should universities be looking to source goods and services with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) wherever feasible?

We recognise the part universities play in their local environment and community, including employment opportunities and regional economics. For TUCO, this extends to SMEs, who can sometimes be excluded from large procurement frameworks. Many SMEs have a lot to offer higher education in terms of high-quality produce, sustainability, locality and price and we value their input.

From a university point of view, using local and/or SMEs can fulfil part of their sustainability strategy, but can also bring about concerns and practical issues such as how to audit or how to prove supply chain safety.


To find out more about TUCO, visit: https://www.tuco.ac.uk/

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