Don’t run out of time

Time is an essential part of a successful procurement process. With a bit of planning you can avoid running out of it, says Lorraine Ashover of Minerva Procurement Consultancy. 

Time is an absolutely crucial resource for school business managers.

Planning ahead can save you time and stress in the future, especially when you are planning a procurement process.

Unfortunately, many schools have a tradition of never allowing enough time to run procurement processes. School business professionals are always heads down or busy firefighting – it’s the nature of the job – and it’s not always easy to see what’s in front of them. That’s especially true of the last few months.

The complexity of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 (PCR 2015) process is a good example of the need to build in plenty of time. I’m often asked by schools at this time of year if it is possible to begin a PCR 2015 process for completion by January. My response is always that if you begin one now, you’ll be lucky to get it done by April. Three months may be fine for a simple request for proposal (RFP) process, but it won’t be enough for a PCR 2015 tender which will typically need at least six months.

When you are putting together a set of documents for a PCR 2015 tender, I would always advise that you also create a timetable at the same time so that you can ensure that the process moves along smoothly. This will also give you certainty that you are meeting all the minimum timescales required under the regulations.

Allow a month to get the tender documents ready. This will give you adequate time to source the information you need to create the full pack. This may include information such as TUPE details from the contract incumbent and, for complex contracts such as catering, sales data so that you can provide potential bidders with an accurate idea of the value of the contract.

Once the tender is published the Selection Questionnaire (SQ) stage needs to be available (electronically) for 30 days. After this phase closes you should allow four weeks to score the submissions, including taking references. You can then shortlist bidders (we usually recommend five as a good number) ready for the opening of the Invitation to Tender (ITT) stage. Again, ensure there is a sensible chunk of time at this stage. The guidelines say 10 days if it is published electronically but I would advise a good four weeks.

If you have advised them at the outset, you can shortlist down from five bidders to three to be invited to a presentation day. You’ll need to allow a week between notifying the shortlisted bidders and the presentation day. Then once your final decision on contract award is (electronically) communicated to the bidders there should be a standstill period of 10 days.  

You may save a little time if you use a procurement framework such as ESPO, YPO or Crown Commercial Service as these are PCR 2015 compliant and will have already run the Selection Questionnaire stage. Depending on the terms of the framework you may need to run a mini competition between the bidders on there, so we would recommend allowing three months for that. And if the process involves TUPE transfer add a 30-day consultation period on top as well.

As well as making a quality and robust procurement process less likely, being late to the process will also reduce your prospects of assembling a shortlist of quality bidders. If you leave the process until the last minute the chances are that the good contractors will already be tied up. A rushed tender will probably not look attractive enough to them and you’ll be left searching to make up the numbers.

A contracts register could help your forward planning. It doesn’t matter what form it takes – it could be asset management software or a simple Excel spreadsheet – just as long as it works for you.

A contracts register will allow you to take a much more strategic approach to planning your calendar, staggering renewals rather than having them fall on the same date, which is more common a problem than you would think. I know plenty of school business managers who feel locked into a routine of having all their contracts start on 1 September or thereabouts. This might at first glance appear to be a reasonable approach to planning to have all contracts renew at the start of a school year because it simplifies budget planning, but it actually creates a bulk of work at what is probably the busiest time of the school year – work that could be spread through the year.

Lorraine Ashover is managing director of Minerva Procurement Consultancy Services Limited. Focused exclusively on the school sector, Minerva has helped schools tender £65 million worth of contracts and generated more than £2.5 million of revenue, refunds and ongoing annual savings for its clients over the past four years. A new edition of Minerva’s free e-book, 84 Points for a Perfect Procurement Process, is available at

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