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31 July 2012 | Kamalpreet Badasha
Positive outcomes have been achieved for 81 per cent of cases investigated and closed by the Cabinet Office’s SME ‘mystery shopper’ scheme.
Since the launch of the programme, which investigates procurement issues on behalf of SMEs relating to public sector contracts, 193 of the 238 cases have been dealt with. Some 67 complaints have been submitted in the past three months. Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said: “mystery shopper lets us find out about procurement problems and the cases published today show that our actions are having real results for businesses out there.”
The cases published include prompt payment issues being successfully solved. For example, HMRC paid its prime contractor on time, however a small business sub-contractor complained the payment was not being passed down, with a local MP writing to Maude regarding the issue. Maude asked the mystery shopper team to investigate the case, which led to the prime contractor agreeing to deliver payments on time.
A similar situation occurred with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) where an SME sub-contractor complained that money was not being passed down from MOD’s prime contractor. The mystery shopper team worked with the MOD to improve the payment process ensuring that all contractors receive prompt payment.
“SMEs are crucial to the future of this country and to building a more diverse and rigorous economy. Timely access to cash is critical for these businesses. It is already a condition of every government contract that sub-contractors are paid within 30 days and we want to know where money is not passed down the supply chain, whatever the reason,” said Maude.
The results, which are published online, are then used to promote best practice and recommend improvements for the public sector procurement process.