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7 July 2014 | Will Green
Around a quarter of complaints about public sector procurement received under the government’s Mystery Shopper scheme concern pre-qualification questionnaires (PQQs).
In a report on the first three years of the programme - which allows suppliers to raise concerns about public procurement, the Cabinet Office (CO) said issues centred around assessments of bidders’ financial strength – in some instances contracting authorities asked for three years of audited accounts, lack of understanding around scoring, and the length and relevance of questions being asked in construction procurements.
Since the scheme began more than 640 cases have been raised and the CO said 79 per cent of closed cases had resulted in a "positive outcome".
However, since an initial 18-month progress report in 2012 the CO said the proportion of complaints concerning PQQs had risen from a third to half of all complaints concerning procurement processes, which themselves made up 53 per cent of total complaints received. Other categories of grievance included bureaucracy (15 per cent), procurement strategy (11 per cent) and contract management (9 per cent).
The report said: “We recommend that contracting authorities make use of the standard PQQ for goods and services for larger procurements, where appropriate, and do not use PQQs at all for lower value procurements.”
The report said SMEs had made “good use” of the Mystery Shopper scheme and the government had “worked to lift the barriers to supplying the public sector”.
Stephen Allott, the crown representative for SMEs, said: “In the past it was far too difficult for SMEs to work with Whitehall, but reforms to how government buys its goods and services in recent years have meant significant increases in the number of small businesses winning contracts.
“The role of Mystery Shopper is important because it encourages SMEs to challenge the poor procurement practices that prevent them from winning business in the first place. We want more small firms to know about the service and get involved.”