The ISBA website outlines a bursar’s usual roles and responsibilities under four main headings:
- Finance and Accountancy
- General Management and Administration
- School Buildings
- School Grounds
As these main areas are then further divided into some fifty more specific responsibilities, the ISBA quite sensibly adds: ‘Nobody can be expert in all these topics. One of the secrets of success is to know when to ask for advice and where to obtain it.’
For obvious reasons, heads and bursars have been under strict instructions from their governing bodies for some years to keep expenditure down to the minimum. Reducing the headcount of teachers obviously produces the biggest savings, but schools are loath to go down this route.
A much easier task is to get better value for money in the areas where all schools are forced to incur substantial expenditure every year.
The ISBA website itemises some of these areas:
- Purchasing all goods and services for the school, either directly or through a purchasing group
- Cleaning, which may also be contracted out
- Leasing energy supply contracts at competitive rates, either directly or through a purchasing group
Today, most homeowners have problems in ensuring that they obtain the best deal for electricity, gas, oil or telecoms for their own properties, so getting the best at all times for a school needs considerable expertise and, above all, time. This is especially true of small schools, where the Bursary, typically consists of a harassed bursar, an accountant, a secretary – and a black Labrador!
It is necessary to manage costs in the most effective way, without sacrificing quality or service, to get the best value. So perhaps at this demanding time, cost and purchase management is the field where bursars most require advice.
Traditional cost reduction programmes focus on headline prices and short-term savings, but this approach can overlook many of the issues. If a supplier offers you a low price, service or quality may be lost. What happens if their prices go up next month and you’re tied into a long-term contract? Will minimum charges be applied? Do you have time to monitor your prices constantly and check your bills?
Many bursars have been active in the headline costs of energy and telecoms but there are numerous other expenses have to be met. These include contract cleaning, janitorial supplies, water, waste disposal, stationery, catering, photocopiers, printing and insurance. To keep on top of all these can be an uphill job without dedicated, professional help. According to one of the leading consultancies in this field, many schools are turning to outsourced providers for this service and access to the latest market information.
Achieving the projected savings (and rebates for past overcharges) is just the beginning of the job. Your consultant can assess current expenditure against new tariffs and services as they become available. This ensures that optimum benefits continue across all essential business outgoings. By choosing the right consultant, many bursars have found a trusted and valued adviser who provides them with all the support they require to keep their ship afloat.
A summary of practical and simple tips for hard-pressed bursars
ABC – Awareness, Benchmarking, Consistency
Encourage staff to think about the expenses they incur and how they use resources.
- Have a stationery amnesty
- Ask staff to reuse ‘waste paper’ for draft printing
- Install low-energy lighting
- Encourage everybody to switch computers and monitors off at the end of the day.
Carry out a benchmarking exercise to establish exactly what you are paying for your essential services.
- Go back to all your current suppliers and ask for their best price.
- Go back to all your current suppliers and ask for their best price. If you’ve been with them for a few years, the chances are you’re not on their best available tariffs. If they won’t budge on price, see if they can throw in some ‘extras’ in terms of service
- If your insurance is arranged by a broker, don’t assume they always find you the best premium available and shop around.
The key to maintaining best value purchasing is to be consistent. Effective cost and purchase management isn’t a one-hit wonder but an ongoing activity. Markets change all the time, as do the needs of your school.
The extra bonus for bursars in their efforts to obtain cost efficiency is having really accurate accounting information on tap! We wish you every success.