A watchdog has warned schools against exclusive deals with expensive uniform suppliers.
The government’s competition regulator found that some parents are spending more than they need on their kids’ school uniforms due to exclusive deals schools hold with local suppliers.
The warning comes in an open letter written to all headteachers urging them that these deals are ‘not giving parents value for money’.
School deals with sole suppliers have seen uniforms costing up to £10 more per item
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) found that in some cases, parents are spending up to £10 extra per item due to being forced to buy from the school’s choice of supplier.
‘Schools are not giving parents value for money’
The CMA’s senior director of enforcement, Anne Pope, writes in the letter:
‘Schools should make sure that there is competition for the supply of school uniforms to parents.
‘Customers benefit from lower prices, better quality goods and services, new and innovative products and greater choice.’
Schools cited the main reasons for choosing a single supplier as ‘quality’ and ‘consistency’
The authority also encouraged owners of other suppliers who were struggling to sell uniforms to get in touch.
While the CMA said there were no plans to take legal action at present, the watchdog does have the power to fine suppliers if they are found to be anti-competitive.
Many supermarkets sell school uniforms at a fraction of the cost, but parents have been discouraged from shopping around by schools, who say that ‘quality’ and ‘consistency’ are the main reasons for dictating a sole supplier.
‘Schools should make sure there is competition for the supply of school uniforms’
David Burgess, chairman of The Schoolwear Association agreed that while price was a concern to parents, good quality and long-lasting uniforms was just as important. He said:
‘There are some benefits to sole supplier arrangements, particularly because a single supplier is dedicated to the school and required to stock uniform all year round in all sizes.
‘When there are two or more suppliers, that sense of duty diminishes, and the school has less power to demand best value and service levels. If a school decides on a sole supplier arrangement, we strongly recommend periodically putting contracts out to tender where quotations can be compared on quality, service levels, year-round stocking, ethical sourcing and price.’
Parents have long struggled with the price of school uniforms, so this move from the CMA is bound to be welcome news to many frustrated parents who feel they’ve been overpaying for school uniforms.