Complaints spark procurement improvements

IN just 18 months since its launch, more than 300 complaints have been investigated through Mystery Shopper – a Government initiative that asks businesses to ‘shop’ bad public procurement practice.

The Government said it investigated the award of certain contracts by councils in Blackpool, Manchester and Sefton, leading to procedural changes in call three cases.

In Blackpool a supplier raised concerns that a tender for the staging of a concert had not been advertised; in Manchester one supplier had issues with a pre-qualification questionnaire used for a grounds maintenance contract and in the case of Sefton Borough Council, a complaint over a selection procedure for a tender led to it being re-run.

Of these and the other cases which have been completed, 78% have resulted in positive changes, minister for the cabinet office Francis Maude announced.

The Mystery Shopper’s first progress report shows that 80% of all cases raised had issues with the procurement process, with a number of SMEs concerned about unachievable pre-qualification financial requirements and the lack of early market engagement.

In 38% of concerns about the procurement process, SMEs cited lengthy and complex pre-qualification questionnaires (PQQs) which disadvantage smaller businesses by setting too much emphasis on financial guarantees and requirements.

Mr Maude said: “Giving SMEs a chance to have their voices heard when bureaucratic barriers stand in their way can really make a difference to their business, and to the growth of our economy.

“Smaller businesses want to see shorter and easier pre-qualification assessments, and get frustrated when the lack of properly advertising contracts or pre-procurement engagement causes unnecessary delays to the process as a whole.”