If you are anything like me, you will probably know your school's budget inside out and realise what is a given in terms of budget lines without even thinking where you can make savings or efficiencies.
Salaries, exam costs, insurance, cover costs, fixed plant maintenance are usually always given the top priority just for starters. Without these the school would be unable to function. This is even before I try to free up as much as possible for capitation to be given to heads od departments.
Even those mentioned above can be looked at for efficiencies and savings – staff mapped against curriculum, support staff against need, exams against what is happening and needed, and cover against looking at other ways of improving staff wellbeing and reviewing contracts for value for money. All of these can produce savings.
In a school that is fortunate to have its own 25m swimming pool the energy use can be quite high. I remember before we had mains gas that we always seemed to be getting an oil delivery and it was a constant battle to find out and achieve the cheapest cost per litre so that some savings could be made each time. Perhaps having the pool makes me more attentive to the fluctuations of energy prices.
Recently I analysed some gas costings and usage figures and the difference was quite a surprise. A school day in August (so not a lot going on) compared to a school day in May and then a school day in January can see the energy cost differ by over £100.00 per day. Our pool runs 24/7, so there will always be a draw on gas being used but it was interesting to realise that by not having the heating on, just like at home, and doing other small things that there is a capacity to make some element of savings in this area.
I always aim to have the heating on after October half term and adjust it accordingly through the week to meet the variances of the British climate, Easter is my indicator to look at reducing the need for the heating to be on as much. I pray for an Indian Summer but am realistic in knowing this could be followed by a harsh winter, or indeed a cold spell lasting much into late April and that an old brick and concrete building needs time to heat up and cool down.
The caveat of meeting the minimum temperature for work is always a battle when doors and windows are left open around school and the door closing season starts in earnest!
An area, where I have achieved significant savings for my current school is in utility costs. Gas and electricity being the highlight. In Wales unlike England moving water provider is still highly restricted compared to England. However, much like several other areas in school business management I am no self-professed expert so do need to consult the experts in this area. Local authorities will still provide schools with their buy in scheme, obtaining the costs from within the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) and this can be convenient. However, there is an alternative to this and that is by using another third-party intermediary (TPI), or as they call it a customer service company who are specialists in energy procurement and contract validation.
I have worked with one such company and it has resulted in savings and funds being recouped that I honestly believe that without using them, I would have struggled to achieve the success I did.
Examples were getting expert advice to save the school over £45,000 on gas usage on previous bills. At an ISBL conference I was given specific advice to further save and claim back over £11,500 on a VAT rate banding issue. More recently, they helped in reducing an historic electricity billing issue from a previous building owner to the school through the reduction of the billing amount.
You can see that their help has achieved some serious savings. They also provide peace of mind in ensuring that any invoices are accurate before they are paid, and intervene before issues arise. In addition, their advice on the energy markets through the service they provide is useful in budget planning when you are given prices for 12, 24, 36 or even 48 monthly energy costs, which provides valuable information for longer term budget planning.
Now, just like any business they obviously make a profit from the energy providers by securing contracts from schools and placing orders with them for energy. I, as a buyer for the school, am happy with this as I don’t feel or believe I am being overcharged for a service that I nor the school is benefitting from. It’s simply an example of being “smart.”