Purchasing Equipment, Products and Services

  1. Identifying the Need / the Specification

Before you get involved in the purchasing process you need to consider what it is you need and why you need it. You should focus initially on the output of the product or service that you need, that means what do you want it to do and what do you want to do with it.

The use of a specification that identifies outputs i.e. the minimum specification of what the equipment or product should achieve or the outputs that you require from the services. Use standards if possible (International/British Standards) but try to ensure that the supplier specifies the product that they will warrant/guarantee to be suitable and will meet your needs.

Do not forget to consider the “non-technical” aspects of your needs such as delivery lead time; delivery charges being extra; maintenance and support and disposal costs and such like.

For lower value, consumable purchases this may not be relevant or necessary but even in these cases remember to consider carriage (delivery) charges. These are often overlooked and can add considerable expense, especially if multiple part deliveries are made.


2.      Do you need to buy it?

The best purchasing decision is ultimately the one that determines that the need can be fulfilled by not spending anything. So please consider whether:

  • you really do need to purchase the item at all;     
  • has someone else in the University already got something that will meet your need and can you use or consume it? In particular could you loan the item or arrange to have time on existing equipment that is in place within the University? Not only does this assist in the achieving the University’s sustainabilityaspirations but it ensures that assets are used to the fullest extent possible – and if you consider this at the time that you are making an application for a research grant it may be that the costs in your grant application are reduced and that you stand a better chance of success as a result;
  • even for consumables, has someone else in the University got excess stock?
  • could you repair, refurbish or upgrade existing equipment or products rather than buy new?
  • Is the service really needed and, if it is a regular service provision such as a maintenance contract, do you need to have the service provided at the frequency or with the response times specified or could these be reduced?

In the end virtually everything that we purchase will create some form of waste, so if you do not need it then you can secure other benefits beyond having the funding available to do something else.


3.      Is the funding available and has it been approved/are you authorised to commit the expenditure?

Ideally before you proceed to seek to make a purchase you should ensure that you have approval and authorisation to commit to the expenditure (that is, the funds are available and you have a Budget Code against which the expenditure can be allocated). If you do not have a valid Budget Code with funds available against it you will not be able to arrange for a Purchase Order to be raised. Your College/Corporate Services Department Finance Office or person with responsibility for managing College/Corporate Services Department budgets can assist you in the first instance if you have any questions regarding availability of funds and setting up accounts/account codes to enable you to proceed with purchases.


4.      Sourcing/Where or Who to buy from

At this stage you should have a clear specification of what you want to buy; why you want to buy it; what you want it to do with it and how many you need – so at this point, where it is appropriate (and certainly for higher value purchases) you need to write down your specification – remembering that you should use an output specification where possible so that you are not “locking out” options (again particularly important when purchasing higher value items).

Depending on the equipment, products and services that you need to purchase, there are several options to consider:

For “regular demand” products and services in particular, but increasingly for some higher value items (such as scientific and engineering research equipment) the University has either “Framework Agreements” or “Commitment Contracts” in place with Approved Suppliers.

Approved Suppliers are those suppliers that have Framework Agreements with the University – these Framework Agreements having been competitively tendered either by the University or by one of the University Purchasing Consortia.  Further information on How to Use Commitment Contracts and How to Use Framework Agreements is available in sections 6 and 7 of these guidelines.

For all proposed purchases (but in particular lower value/consumable products and services such as furniture, laptops, notebooks, pc’s, stationery and general consumable products) you should check the University’s Approved Supplier list at https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/finance/procurement/I-need-to-buy-something/Approved-Suppliers.aspx or contact the Procurement Division or your College/Corporate Services Departmental Finance Office.

If you are making a purchase from an Approved Supplier, you should, as indicated above, follow the procedures in section 6 – How to Use Commitment Contracts or section 7- How to Use Framework Agreements.


If you are unable to source/purchase your requirements from an Approved Supplier you will need to use one of the competitive processes set out in section 8 – Competitive Processes and Procedures.


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