Curro schools may face competition probe over uniforms

2015-05-17 15:00

Curro Holdings’ exclusive agreement with a school uniform supplier – which it owns – may end up landing the group in the sights of the Competition Commission, which has been looking into the high cost of uniforms at schools across the country.

Since the commission announced its intention to examine these costs, as well as exclusive agreements some schools have with certain suppliers to stock their uniforms, parents at a number of Curro schools have complained to the commission about Curro’s pricing for uniforms and sports clothes.

“Our concerns are that we are only able to source our uniforms from a single online retailer, which is a sister company of the school,” said one, who asked not to be named for fear of her children being victimised. “The uniforms are over-engineered and overpriced.”

She showed City Press an invoice for a sports cap and shirt totalling almost R318. The shirt – for 11- to 12-year-olds – accounted for most of the bill, at R225.31. By contrast, the Florapark Comprehensive Primary School in Polokwane charges R120 for all sizes of sports shirts.

“We have no local supplier that we can turn to and, to our knowledge, no one has been invited to tender for the Curro business.”

Curro’s exclusive supply agreement with Professional Sourcing and Procurement Assist (PSPA) – which supplies clothing, sports equipment and school and office furniture – is a major bone of contention with parents.

The private schools group bought a 40% stake in PSPA in October 2013, and has since invested heavily in the company, giving it part of a R7.4 million loan for “further expansions and improvements” last November.

PSPA ensures delivery of parents’ online orders straight to their homes – at a cost of R67, regardless of the size of the order, and Curro operations head Andries Greyling serves as one of its directors.

But Greyling denied that Curro’s schools were supplied by PSPA.

“There are a number of schools that are supplied by independent school clothing retailers,” he said. “My Hub is a Curro administrative and communication portal and not part of PSPA’s portal. Parents are required to log on to this portal and are then directed to the PSPA e-commerce portal.”

He added that pricing was monitored regularly and denied claims of excessive pricing – saying similar products were not used to make comparisons.

He said Curro had investigated duplicate shops for their schoolwear and found that collective sourcing and distribution from a central warehouse was more cost-effective.

“A senior counsel specialising in Competition Commission matters was consulted in relation to possible contravention of the Competition Act,” he said. The senior counsel advised them that there was no need to worry.

Competition Commission spokesperson Mava Scott said the regulator was not specifically investigating Curro, but had looked at other specific cases after complaints from several parents across the schooling system, especially in the Western Cape.

This included the School andamp; Leisure group, which supplies schoolwear to more than 150 schools. A parent had complained about this company’s exclusive agreement with Bergvliet High School in Cape Town.

But the deal narrowly escaped referral to the Competition Tribunal.

Scott said the commission screened the case for investigation, but decided against referring it to the tribunal for adjudication, opting instead to send its officials for amicable talks with the school.

“They have given an undertaking to stop the exclusive agreements and open the uniform process to tender,” he said.

School and Leisure and Bergvliet principal Stephen Price did not respond to requests for comment.

Talk to us: Does your child’s school restrict the sale of uniforms to a specific vendor? Do you think this is fair? Should the Competition Commission investigate this practice?

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May 19 2019