One of the biggest challenges in public procurement is getting the best value for the dollar. In many cases, large companies get most contracts, leaving small and medium-sized businesses without a fair chance to compete. In February 2011, the UK Prime Minister and Minster for the Cabinet launched a ‘mystery shopper’ initiative to give small and medium enterprises more opportunities to secure government contracts.
About the Mystery Shopper Program
“SMEs represent 99 per cent of all businesses yet a survey of our members suggests that around 70 percent of them rarely or never bid for government procurement opportunities,” said Mike Cherry, National Policy Chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses. The program’s goal is to make the process less intimidating for small businesses by allowing them to anonymously voice their opinions about current policies.
According to Cabinet Office Parliamentary Secretary Chloe Smith, “Mystery Shopper is one piece of our wider reform programme. It allows us to make sure that our work to reform central government procurement is as effective as we want it to be.” Small businesses are vital to the local economy and often give taxpayers a better value.
18-Month Progress Report
During the first 18 months of Mystery Shopper, businesses filed more than 300 complaints and the Cabinet investigated each one. “It’s great news that in four out of five cases investigated, the scheme has improved things,” says Smith. 38% of those instances pertained to pre-qualification questionnaires (PQQs) used by contacting authorities. Small businesses find the processes too long and complex, and often can’t meet the financial requirements outlined by the agreement. Other common areas of concern include the procurement strategy and communication before engagement, framework agreements, subcontractors, and payment.
With a 78% success rate and active involvement from the SME community, the UK’s Mystery Shopper initiative can bring needed change to the country’s public procurement processes.