Department of Computer Science and Technology

Information for staff

Purchasing – policy and guidelines

Full information can be found within the Central Purchasing Office pages of the University of Cambridge Offices website.


It is important that all goods and services bought by the Computer Laboratory should offer value for money and be fit for purpose, and that the purchasing mechanisms should be in accordance with the University's Procurement Procedures and relevant parts of the Financial Regulations.

Making Purchases

There are six steps in the purchasing sequence. The best sources for advice on steps (i) and (ii) are listed in the Schedule and for steps (iii) to (vi) is the Departmental Secretary (Finance) in the Accounts Office (GC12).

(i) Obtaining funding authority

For most members of staff, this will involve requesting permission from the relevant person authorised to commit expenditure against the relevant budget headings in the Department.
Principal Investigators on Research Grants are authorised to commit expenditure from their Grants.
The Senior Computer Officer or delegated Computer Officer will normally approve direct expenditure of up to £10,000 on computer equipment or software from Departmental (non-Research Grant) resources.
For non-computer related expenditure outside of Research Grants the Departmental Secretary can approve expenditure up to £1,000, thereafter requests should be made to the Head of Department for authorisation.
The Head or a Deputy Head of Department must authorise all requests for attending Conferences or Workshops if these are to be funding by Departmental resources or, if Research Grant funds are to be used, the immediate Supervisor and Principal Investigator, before the event takes place.

(ii) Deciding what to buy and when to obtain quotes

Various members of staff, as listed in the Schedule , keep watch on the marketplace in particular areas as part of their job and whoever provides you with the funding authority will normally recommend you to approach one of them for advice and assistance. The way in which the procurement then proceeds will depend on the amount of money involved and whether or not you propose to buy from a source on the University's Preferred Supplier List, which includes many of our regular suppliers. The University Finance Committee (acting on the advice of the Purchasing Working Group) has set threshold limits (before VAT) as follows1:

Procedure CPO Preferred Supplier Other Supplier
No quotes required Below £500 Below £100
Telephone/fax/e-mail quotes £500 to £5,000 £100 to £500
Fax/e-mail quotes £5,000 to £25,000 £500 to £5,000
Formal quotes £25,000 to £50,000 £5,000 to £50,000
Formal tenders Over £50,000 Over £50,000
EU procedures Over £144,371* Over £144,371*
*the current value of the EU threshold, which is revised every two years
1The University Guidelines state that the thresholds relating to expenditure of more than £5,000 are mandatory, those below £5,000 are recommended, but may be varied at the Head of Department's discretion. Under this authority the Head of Department has allowed the Senior Computer Officer to exercise his own judgement in obtaining quotes for items under £5,000.

Unless otherwise agreed in writing, the University's General Conditions of Purchase will apply. A minimum of 3 quotes should be sought for the above relevant lines and these should be available to the Accounts Office together with a copy of the purchase order for Auditing purposes. Email quotes may be forwarded to [Javascript required] for this purpose. It must be possible to tie email quotes to an order number and for this reason quotes should be held until a purchase order is issued and the quotes forwarded with the purchase order number in the subject line.

Under circumstances where quotes have been asked for but not received this should be noted, again by email. For purchases under £5,000 unreceived quotes should not be allowed to unduly delay ordering.

Anyone who needs to use one of the procedures in the last three lines of the table and has not done so before should consult the Department's Accounts Office (GC12) for written information and advice. Regular repeat orders which require quotes may reuse quotes which are less than six months old2.

(iii) Placing a Purchase Order (PO)

All purchases MUST be covered by a Cambridge University Financial System (CUFS) order. Those staff authorised to prepare purchase orders are listed under PO Buyers in the Schedule below and after completing step (ii) above you should ask the relevant Buyer to make out an order for you. The Buyer will also arrange for the purchase order to be approved and printed ready for sending off to the supplier. The Department has a limited number of approvers (see Schedule) who are officially responsible for committing the University to the relevant expenditure and if any of them is unhappy about any aspect of the order they will withhold approval until you have satisfied them that all is well.

(iv) Receiving Goods

Although all goods ought to arrive at Stores, they are often sent direct to the Buyer, the Approver or the person originating the purchase order. The requestor or a deputy should check the goods and quantities and the delivery note duly signed and dated, in the event that the goods are being signed in by another person i.e. Reception the delivery note/other document should be signed as "received unchecked". Once the delivery is received you must now arrange for the Buyer to receipt the goods/services onto CUFS and the delivery note to be passed on to Accounts, where it will be matched up with the purchase invoice when that arrives. If, however, the goods are damaged or there is a quantity variance between the delivery note and goods received, the supplier must be informed at once. For damaged goods a Goods Return Note (GRN) is required from the supplier and noted so that the information can be input in to CUFS and also the goods to be returned then arrangements are to be made for the supplier to collect the goods.

For variances in quantity this should also be highlighted to the supplier, the date, name of person and instruction should be recorded on the delivery note if a telephone call made all other correspondence i.e. Fax should be kept with the delivery note as an audit trail. For goods received over the quantity of the purchase order and the items are to be retained this should be relayed to the Accounts Office and corrective measures taken within the Receiving module of CUFS to reflect this. In respect of Equipment which needs testing before acceptance relay this to the Accounts Office when handing over the delivery note and then carry out the testing as quickly as possible and inform Accounts of the result. If any equipment needs to be returned to the supplier, for whatever reason inform the Accounts Office and take whatever action is necessary.

(v) Paying Invoices

Although the suppliers should send all invoices to the Accounts Office (GC12), this does not always happen. If an invoice turns up in your mail, pass it on to the Accounts Office immediately, even if the equipment it refers to is still being tested prior to acceptance. On occasions it does not necessarily mean that a delivery note will be forthcoming from a supplier i.e. software licences, books, travel and outside catering etc. In these circumstances the Accounts Office will ask you to sign and date the invoice before payment is made. It is important that the price on the purchase order matches that of the invoice. If, when matching, the invoice price exceeds that of the purchase order by more than a tolerance of 5% Accounts will seek advice from the originator as to the reason for the discrepancy which will be recorded on the supplier invoice or corrective action taken with the supplier.

(vi) Expenses Forms

Where expenditure is to be reimbursed it is necessary to seek the appropriate authorisation before travel commences by filling in Part I of the Departmental Expenses Form (hard copies available from the Accounts office). After travel has commenced Part II of the expenses form should be completed and all original receipts attached for the cost of accommodation, travel and subsistence. This should then be counter-signed by the relevant Supervisor then sent to the Head of Department for authorisation.

Failure to produce relevant receipts could be construed as a taxable benefit and declared on the P11D return at the end of the tax year. [Rates of reimbursement are set by the Finance Committee and notified to Departments by the Finance Division. Payments may only be made within these approved rates. Information regarding current rates is available from the Accounts Office].

Petty Cash

Payments from petty cash shall be limited to items of expenditure below the cost of £25 and must be supported by a receipted voucher and the claimant receiving reimbursement must sign for receipt of monies. Under no circumstance will petty cash be used to make payment to individuals (e.g. payments to visiting lecturers to defray expenses). Reimbursement of petty cash can be made via the Accounts Office (GC12).

Credit Card Purchases

Some suppliers make it difficult and/or more expensive to place orders other than by a credit card. The Department has a Corporate Barclaycard, which may be used for purchasing by post or by fax but not via the Internet. Contact the Accounts Office (GC12) for details. We are in the process of investigating the use of a credit card for Internet purchases which is being hampered by our bank's lack of flexibility in credit limits.

Private Purchases

The Financial Regulations now only allow private purchases to be made through the Department if the amount involved is over £50.00 it will also incur an additional 17.5% on top of the gross value of the invoice. Contact the Accounts Office (GC12) for details.


The Department has to maintain an inventory of all equipment and it is the duty of anyone who obtains newly purchased equipment to provide a Computer Officer with serial numbers, location and other information, which they need to be able to create appropriate inventory entries. Information regarding equipment over £750.00 should also be highlighted to the Accounts Office (GC12) at the invoicing stage so the item can be ticked as "track as asset" and input in to the Fixed Asset module of CUFS.

Disposal of Equipment

As a general rule the disposal of obsolete equipment should involve the relevant specialist, since it is part of their job to know what is saleable and what should be dumped. The specialist will also remind the staff involved that items, which are disposed of, should be notified both to a Computer Officer (for removal from the equipment inventory) and to the Accounts Office (GC12) (so that if the equipment is on the Fixed Asset register it can be removed and if the equipment is being sold then the correct accounting procedures can be followed).

Lab Vehicle

Authorised personnel may use the Department vehicle for University business only. A record of authorised drivers is kept with the Building Services Manager with whom booking for the vehicle is necessary. The Department vehicle should not usually be used for travel to and from work and it should be left on University premises at night. Where the use of the Department vehicles is authorised for travel to and from work and they are not left on University premises at night, the employee of the University is likely to be taxed on the benefit enjoyed.

Schedule to the Purchasing Policy - July 2006

Internal sources of purchasing advice

Name Purchasing Category Location
Mr Louis Massuard Domestic and Office Supplies/Building Services GW03
Mr Nick Batterham Electronic and Computer Components GC15
Mrs Joanne McNeely Jobs advertising GC08
Dr Piete Brooks Linux PC's GC16
Mr Ian Burton-Palmer Building work, Furniture and Fittings GW04
Dr Martyn A Johnson Computers, Networking and Software GC09
Ms Carol Nightingale General queries, formal purchasing procedures and University Financial System (CUFS) procedures GC12
Mr Nicholas Cutler Books GN04
Dr Graham Titmus Computers, Office Equipment, AVA and Software FS08
Reception Travel, Conference Registration, Outside Catering and Courier Services? GC03

Purchase Order (PO) Buyers

Purchasing Category Name UFS Responsibility UFS Limit
Building Services/Courier/ Catering/General Mr Louis Massuard PO Buyer 0
Computing/Electronics Mr Nick Batterham PO Buyer 0
Building Services Mr Ian Burton-Palmer3 PO Buyer No Limits
Computing/Electronics Dr Martyn A Johnson PO Buyer No Limits
All Mrs Caroline Stewart PO Buyer No Limits
All Ms Carol Nightingale4 PO Buyer No Limits
Travel Reception PO Buyer 0
Library Mr Nicholas Cutler PO Buyer 0
Computing/Electronics Dr Graham Titmus5 PO Buyer No Limits

To comply with University Regulations regarding segregation of duties PO Buyers with No Limits should under no circumstances approve his/her own purchase order. It is recognised that self approval can be done accidentally and that CUFS currently does not allow the user to correct such a mistake.

Copies of the University Financial Regulations, Accounting Policy Manual, University Purchasing Procedures and other guidelines can be accessed from the Department's Accounts Office.

3Purchase Order Approver
4Only to be used in emergencies or absence
5Deputy for Dr Martyn A Johnson