NEWS2 September 2011

Mystery shoppers reveal public sector procurement problems

UK— The difficulties faced by SMEs bidding for public sector work have been highlighted in a mystery shopping exercise.

The Cabinet Office announced new procurement rules earlier this year, and invited small business to provide feedback on their experience bidding for work in order to identify any problems.

It has now published the results of cases that arose in the first three months of the scheme, from February to May this year. Several complaints related to the lengthy pre-qualification questionnaires – which small companies have said are a burden to complete, while others were about scoring criteria and other requirements that suppliers felt were unfair.

The problems experienced echo some of those highlighted by small and medium-sized research suppliers. Many have complained about the hoops they have to jump through to have a chance of winning public sector work, and the fact that some procurement staff have little understanding of market research.

The results also list the action taken by the bodies in question – in some cases agreeing to simplify their procedures or repeat procurement processes to give suppliers another chance. One complaint prompted the Department of Transport to break up an “all-embracing” framework for consultancy services into two lots for “technical and engineering advice” and “research services”.

The Cabinet Office says it will investigate each case and continue to publish results every three months.