Schools demand backhanders

By Kirsty Wynn

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

A school uniform supplier says her company was asked to supply two vans to a college in order to get their business.

It is the latest case to highlight parent concern at the high costs of school uniforms and stationery, with some schools entering into exclusive supplier deals with retailers and reaping financial benefit for doing it.

The Commerce Commission has voiced concern over such arrangements, but Education Minister Hekia Parata said it was the responsibility of individual boards of trustees to intervene.

Janet Igrisan, of the Uniform Shoppe in South Auckland, said her company had refused to give kick-backs or sweeteners and had lost business because of it.

Igrisan's company was told it could have the sole supplier rights if it provided two vans to the South Auckland high school concerned, which she would not name.

"They said they had been to Ford and knew which vans they wanted, but I wouldn't do it.

I am there to provide the best- quality uniforms at the best price for parents."

They then asked for just one van, but she also turned them down on that.

Igrisan was shortlisted to provide uniforms to another school but was told her company missed out because another supplier provided a "sweetener".

Igrisan said principals who used quality and consistency as reasons for going with just one company needed to do their homework.

"We can match any fabric and design and reproduce any logo or any uniform," Igrisan said. "For parents to get the best price there needs to be competition and the whole idea of using one supplier goes against that."

A Herald on Sunday investigation last week showed sweeteners provided to some schools ranged from scholarships and sports uniforms to cash incentives and even $30,000 of sports equipment.

Meanwhile, other parents have complained to the paper that they have had to buy stationery kits from certain suppliers and said they'd been stuck with pens that broke or seemed highly priced.

One parent, at Northcross Intermediate on Auckland's North Shore, said he had to fork out $75 for a stationery kit but was never told what the kit contained.

Another, with children at Farm Cove and Pakuranga College, said items from the school's sole supplier, Office Max, were of poor quality and had fallen apart.

The Ministry of Education said it did not have a policy on school uniforms or stationery and said concerned parents needed to go to their board to express concerns.

"Parents do at times express concerns about the cost of school uniforms, or about the limited choices available to them for the purchasing of school uniforms," a ministry spokeswoman said.

Diane O'Sullivan, from the Parent Teacher Association, said schools who forced parents to buy from just one supplier could be breaking the law.

"Sometimes it is a low-decile school and it's not right, it's actually illegal," she said.

The Commerce Commission has issued guidelines to schools over deals but said none involved in the 26 complaints received had broken the law.

"We have assessed these complaints against the legislation and none have met the criteria for enforcement action," the Ministry of Education spokeswoman said.

What is illegal

Co-ordinated conduct includes:
* Agreements that substantially lessen competition in a market
* Agreements that exclude or limit dealings with a rival
* Agreements that fix, maintain or control prices (also known as cartels)

- Herald on Sunday

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