Procuring personal protective equipment

There is currently a wide range of varying information available from both official and unreliable channels in relation to PPE so it can be difficult to know what the best option is when procuring it. This article will guide you through what information to look out for and the best routes to market when securing PPE for your institution

PPE is equipment that will protect the user against health or safety risks at work. It typically includes items such as safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear and safety harnesses. However, due to the Coronavirus pandemic the definition of PPE has changed slightly to also include products which wouldn’t have traditionally been considered PPE such as face masks, gloves, gowns, face shields, antibacterial gel and other high demand items.
Knowledge of PPE has grown rapidly as has the importance it now plays not only within a construction or medical setting but also in personal and everyday life.

What PPE do I need?

The PPE equipment required by educational establishments to operate safely can vary significantly. Government guidance is subject to revision, however equipment that may be needed includes masks, disposable gloves, disposable plastic aprons and eye protection.
According to DEandS, the organisation that procures PPE for the NHS, these are among the highest demand items. Most staff in education, childcare and children’s social care settings will not require PPE beyond what they would normally need for their work. PPE is generally only needed in a very small number of cases such as when an individual child, young person or other learner becomes ill with coronavirus symptoms and only then if a distance of two metres cannot be maintained.
The exception to the above is the use of face coverings. The government has advised that secondary schools in England have the discretion to require pupils and staff to wear face coverings in communal areas whilst the use of face coverings is mandatory in regions where local lockdowns are in place.     
Welsh schools will need to undertake a risk assessment and make their own decision if face coverings/masks are needed in communal places and on school transport.

Secondary school students in Scotland and Northern Ireland will need to wear a face mask in corridors and communal areas.
Additional PPE will be required if your school or academy offers after school clubs or other facilities that are available to the general public which are in the government’s list of settings that require PPE and where guidelines state that a face covering should be worn. It is paramount that all details are checked and that all PPE guidance is followed at all times to ensure the wellbeing of staff, students and the general public.

Routes to market

There are a number of different routes to market available when securing PPE, each dependant on your institution’s procurement regulations. One of the best that has been utilised during the pandemic for educational establishments and the wider public sector is the use of a framework agreement (also known as a deal). A framework is a safe way to purchase PPE as it consists of a set number of fully vetted suppliers and often features a range of different lots to allow for greater specialisms in selected categories; e.g. there could be a lot for face masks and a lot for gloves.

Frameworks enable you to save significant time in the procurement process as the contracting authority that has set it up has done the majority of the hard work and completed the lengthy process of running the tender and evaluating supplier submissions for you.

This allows you, depending on the functionality and choices available on the framework, to award your procurement to a pre-approved supplier much faster than if you had run the tender by yourself.

One option that may be available to you is to award to a supplier by either Direct Award or Further Competition. A Direct Award is the quickest process and depending on framework functionality, will allow you to award to one of the pre-approved suppliers using the award information that is provided which will vary from framework to framework.

Another option is a Further Competition. This is a longer process than a direct award but it allows you to ensure everything has been considered for your requirement and adds more value to your procurement process.     
Again, depending on the framework, the contracting authority may provide users with guidance documentation as well as draft specification and further competition documents. A further competition will allow you to specify exactly what you require from the supplier to ensure that you are not only getting a fair price but also the most economically advantageous bid. The contracting authority may also have a team or a dedicated contract manager who looks after the framework. They will be able to help you get the most out of using the framework for your PPE purchase and will also help with any other queries you may have.

Non-established suppliers

There has been a sharp rise in suppliers diversifying into the PPE market during the pandemic due to their normal areas of business slowing in demand. This has caused lead times, stock levels and prices for high demand items to vary dramatically. More established suppliers have needed to rethink their supply chains and search for new suppliers themselves in order to keep up with the global demand for PPE.

This shift in numbers of suppliers in PPE causes a potential risk to those purchasing  as it will not only increase the cost of the products but if a non-established supplier is selected, there is a possibility that they are procuring cheaply made and inferior quality products. This is as opposed to buying from a trusted supplier with experience in the sector.
A recommendation is to check the previous work experience of suppliers and how long they have worked in the PPE market. This will help you to make sure that the supplier you are selecting is offering a fair price for full quality items and they will be able to add value to your procurement exercise and advise on any potential problems efficiently. Should you choose to procure via a framework agreement, the suppliers will have been pre-vetted so that you can be assured of the highest quality PPE products at a fair price.

CPL Group

CPC and Tenet Education Services are not-for-profit organisations which are part of CPL Group, an education owned charity that gives back to the sector through funding and support. CPC has a complete range of frameworks which are designed for the education sector, including a comprehensive PPE, Clothing and Uniforms framework which has a lot with 8 fully vetted PPE suppliers. CPC membership is free of charge to all institutions. Tenet provides procurement consultancy support.