Ensemble purchasing: mighty oaks from little acorns grow

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The Ensemble Purchasing launch team
Smaller institutions in London are joining forces to get bigger bang for their buck from procurement. Kat Humphries introduces Ensemble Purchasing, a new cost sharing group dedicated to procurement.

How does a small educational institution with a relatively small spend ensure they are getting the best value for money from their suppliers? And how can an institution of this size access an affordable and professional procurement resource?

These were the questions on the mind of Andrew Farrell, former director of finance at London School of Economics, when he proposed establishing a shared procurement service to the board of the London University Purchasing Consortium (LUPC).

Seeing a real opportunity to make a difference to its member organisations, Andy Davies, director of LUPC, took this acorn of an idea and began to cultivate it….the result? Ensemble Purchasing: a cost sharing group (CSG) which enables smaller establishments to club together and employ permanent full-time procurement professionals to provide a shared procurement service.

A CSG does not make a profit, members pay only for the service they receive, and the services are exempt from VAT. Costs are significantly lower than paying for a consultant and the service means that our members have a permanent long-term procurement solution rather than a temporary stopgap.

Ensemble Purchasing launched in January 2016 with one senior procurement manager and three member institutions. Six months on and we now boast two full-time CIPS qualified procurement managers and four members (with a fifth, hopefully, on the way):

  • Royal Academy of Music
  • Royal College of Art
  • Royal College of Music
  • Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance

Essentially, we act a procurement function for each of our member organisations, looking to improve compliance, increase spend control and reduce commercial risks. We get involved in activities ranging from the strategic – leading on procurement maturity assessments and writing strategies – to the operational – sorting out that pesky watercooler contract – and our aim is to become the go-to people for procurement advice.

In addition to supporting activities of our members individually, we’re looking for commonalities between them and encouraging a collaborative approach where appropriate. Our members have already benefitted from their collaborative venture in terms of compliance, with the development of standard tender templates and access to a joint e-tendering portal for all its members. We’ve also investigated the possibilities of tendering for a number of different services together. This is the kind of communication and efficiencies that are core to the purpose of our shared service.

Ensemble is still a sapling compared our arborescent CSG counterparts in the sector, take Jisc, for example. However, we have shown in our short life that a smaller-scale, agile start up can be established quickly, at relatively low cost and can deliver immediate benefits to its members.

Despite the title of this blog, I don’t claim to have prescience of Ensemble’s destiny, but it certainly reflects the aspirations we hold for our modest organisation. In the meantime, we’ll take it one step at a time and over the next 12 months we hope to establish solid roots within our member organisations and look forward to reporting back to you with a taste of the fruits of our labour…watch this space…

If you have any questions or comments regarding this article, or indeed have any hints and tips to share with us about setting up a new procurement function please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at k.humphries@lupc.ac.uk.

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Kat Humphries
Kat is senior procurement manager at Ensemble Purchasing, a cost sharing group specialising in procurement.