Small firms hit out at supply plan for schools

Small local suppliers of stationery, computer equipment, and other goods for schools fear new rules on centralised buying could costs hundreds of jobs.

Along with other bodies who rely on at least half of their funding coming from the taxpayer, schools must follow strict procedures on sourcing a range of goods and services. The same rules are being applied to colleges, councils, gardaí, prisons, and the health sector.

Since September and October, they must buy goods from a shortlist of suppliers of items including ICT consumables, managed print services, and advertising. The requirements will be extended to schools from next year for stationery, paper, and janitorial supplies.

While it may mean savings for school boards, and thus less reliance on parents and communities for raising funds, some supply sectors fear it will cost jobs and businesses.

Rory McEvoy, owner of Stationery Solutions in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, said hundreds of firms like his could be wiped out.

He told the Irish Examiner that an analysis carried out by himself and large stationery wholesalers suggested that 30% of dealers could be eliminated by the extension of office supply and stationery procurement requirements to schools next April, with another 5% of local firms’ business being lost when stationery supplies have to be bought from the successful tenderers.

“Most dealers like myself were disqualified from the tender process as we do not have a turnover of €8m or more. I felt the years of hard work I put into my business establishing contacts and giving a good service to my customers was belittled at the stroke of a pen.

“After the economic collapse started, we shifted our focus into supplying schools, which now account for around half of our business with more than 100 schools in about a 30-mile radius.”

The body representing the boards of most primary schools said it is aware of the importance of local firms.

Eileen Flynn, general secretary of the Catholic Primary School Management Association, said: “Many schools were concerned that local suppliers might be put out of business by this, but we have stressed to boards of management that if they can secure goods or services at the same price or better locally, they are entitled to use that provider as long as they keep all the relevant documents.”

The rules on centralising public procurement were published in July by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and are being overseen by the National Procurement Service.


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