Competition authority releases guidelines to improve the competitiveness of school uniform procurement
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THE Competition Commission has released guidelines to school governing bodies (SGBs), administrators and schools to improve the competitiveness of the procurement of school uniforms, after continuing complaints received about the prices of uniforms.
The commission said that since 2010 it had received complaints from parents and guardians regarding the high price of school uniforms and that some schools compel parents to buy uniforms and learning-related materials from only one supplier.
This often left parents out of pocket at the start of each school year, as they could not source cheaper suppliers.
To address these issues, the commission on Monday released a guideline on the procurement of school uniforms and learning materials.
Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, commercial law firm’s national head of competition law, Chris Charter said the commission’s guidelines were “pretty well calibrated” in that they sought at the one hand to facilitate new entrants in the school uniform manufacturing sector, and on the other to address the pricing of school uniforms for struggling consumers.
The guideline aims to help schools, parents and school governing bodies understand the benefits of competition in the sale of school uniforms and learning materials; help schools foster competition between suppliers; encourage parents to get involved and exercise their right to choose value for money; and encourage SGBs to develop policies that promote pro-competitive procurement practices.
The guideline provides pointers to schools, parents and SGBs as to how they can foster healthy competition in the market.
For instance, schools were advised to make their school uniform as generic as possible so parents do not have to source it from only specialist suppliers.
Schools should appoint or designate as many school uniform suppliers as possible so customers had more choices.
The number of exclusive items appearing on a school uniform list should be limited to bare necessities and, where possible, be reusable so as to minimise repeated expense and waste.
If schools had to appoint exclusive service providers, they should do so after a competitive bidding process and should regularly seek to rotate suppliers.
Parents were advised to actively pursue comparable quality at the lowest price; encourage their schools to implement the guideline and sign an undertaking in this regard; and report to the commission any schools that flouted the guidelines and continue to sign exclusive agreements with uniform suppliers.
SGBs were advised to ensure that their schools implement the guideline; encourage schools to sign a voluntary undertaking as a public pledge of their commitment to pro-competitive compliance; and report to the commission any schools that do not adhere.
In a related development, the commission said it had entered into a memorandum of understanding with the National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB).
The NASGB represents over 7 000 SGBs, and was expected to play a role in driving awareness of competition law and in the procurement of goods and services – ranging from teaching material and uniforms to equipment, building and construction services, and concessions such as tuck shops – and discouraging anti-competitive behaviour by schools.
In December, the commission concluded a consent agreement with a major Gauteng-based school uniform supplier – although no admission of liability was sought, the agreement terminated all exclusive supply agreements with schools.
BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE