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Publisher slams textbook procurement contract

A major Scottish publisher has lambasted a new procurement contract for textbooks as a "potentially absurd waste of public money".

The new Scotland Excel textbook procurement contract stipulates that textbook orders for nearly every major educational publisher must be supplied through a prescribed list of approved contractors. The result is that publishers can no longer deal directly with schools.

John Mitchell, managing director of Hodder Gibson, told headteachers at the School Leaders Scotland conference that his company would make more money from the new contract with Scotland's main procurement agency for local authorities than if he was dealing directly with schools. But he still condemned what he saw as "a ridiculous arrangement that would cost schools - and the taxpayer - more money than they need to spend on our textbooks".

Mr Mitchell said: "It's not rocket science to work out that we give contractors discounts and they have to take some of that discount to make a living, whereas in dealing directly with a school, we can pass on all of that discount, and sometimes more."

He, and others in the industry, had advised Scotland Excel before the issuing of the contract, that although publishers were happy to work with contractors and bookshops, whose "one-stop-shop" status would be an attraction to many, textbook procurement was not like jotters, or soap.

"Books are non-substitutable products, and schools should always be allowed at least to seek a deal from the producers of those products. And if they can secure a better deal, they should be allowed to take advantage of it. Under this contract, they can't."

Ken Cunningham, general secretary of SLS, said his association would be raising the issue with government and local authorities in an effort to maximise resources at school level.

He said: "SLS is always concerned at systems which, not properly thought through, cost rather than save money. In this case, there appears also to be an issue over an understanding of how schools work. No wonder teachers get frustrated, and no wonder there is an increasingly clamant call for more autonomy to schools. Examples of central decision-making like this just add fuel to that debate."

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