SCHOOLS are reluctant to sign up for a bulk-buying scheme designed to save money because of fears that it will push local suppliers out of business.
They are worried that a local supplier depending on four or five schools in a town could be squeezed out by the scheme.
There is a legal obligation on schools and other public bodies to get the best value for money across a range of goods and services, from electricity and gas to ink cartridges and ringbinders.
The Government set up the National Procurement Service (NPS) in 2009 for that purpose.
Electricity is the first service to be covered by the new joint-purchase system and schools are reaping the benefit.
The Catholic Primary School Managers' Association general secretary Eileen Flynn said 1,000 primary schools had signed up and seen electricity bills cut by up to 40pc.
One school made a saving in excess of €6,000.
The bulk buying is also being extended to other areas such as natural gas, heating oil, photocopying and printing, office supplies and cleaning materials.
Using joint procurement for the purchase of electricity or gas causes no problem for schools because it does not affect a local supplier.
But there are concerns about the extension of the scheme to office supplies, which schools may be buying locally.
School managers raised the issue at a meeting of the Oireachtas education committee yesterday.
It is causing two problems for schools, according to the head of the Joint Managerial Body (JMB) representing almost two-thirds of the country's second-level schools.
JMB president Fr Paul Connell said they welcomed the establishment of the NPS, but schools that had engaged with it found it a "slow and cumbersome" process.
He also said that schools "had to be conscious of the local business and community" when it came to making purchases.
JMB general secretary Ferdia Kelly added: "There could be an office supplier in a town depending on business from the four or five local schools for purchases such as office stationery and ink cartridges.
"If the schools switch to the national procurement framework, the local business is gone."
The committee met with a range of school representative bodies for a discussion on how to manage rising back-to-school costs.
Labour TD and deputy chair of the committee, Aodhain O Riordain, said that the practice of giving Christmas presents to teachers should be stamped out.
He said it was encouraging to hear that schools were moving towards cheaper, generic school uniforms to reduce costs for parents.
Ms Flynn told the committee that schools were doing their utmost to keep the costs of returning to school to a minimum.
She said that the drastic cuts to school budgets meant that some of the means by which costs could be reduced were no longer possible, such as book rental schemes.
"Even if a book rental scheme is in place, it takes significant sums to keep it running as books must be replaced on a regular basis," she said.