Press release

Cabinet Office stands up for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs)

Confusing tenders and bureaucratic public procurement have been laid bare in the latest Mystery Shopper results.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Confusing tenders and bureaucratic public procurement have been laid bare in the latest Mystery Shopper results, published today by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude. The results show that the Cabinet Office has stepped in and stood up for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), resolving a total of 14 cases over the past 3 months.

The initiative allows business owners to report instances where SMEs or other suppliers are shut out of the market so that the Cabinet Office can investigate and deal with them, opening up the market for SMEs. The results published today show:

  • 14 new Mystery Shopper cases were resolved between June and September 2011
  • 85% of cases (12) resulted in either immediate or future changes to the tender
  • pre-qualification questionnaires (PQQs) are still the most common issue (5 out of the 14 cases), followed by unfair disqualification on financial pre requirements (2)
  • of the 2 cases that did not result in action, one was resolved without Cabinet Office intervention and the other tender was investigated and found to be sound

Since its launch, Mystery Shopper has received over 80 cases, almost half of these are already resolved (37), with Cabinet Office action leading to direct changes in procurement in 81 per cent of cases. For example, a small coffee roasting business was unable to bid for a tender because it lacked the resources to respond to an unnecessarily lengthy and complicated PQQ. Cabinet Office action via Mystery Shopper led to the contracting authority shortening the PQQ.

In another instance, only pre-selected suppliers could bid for a contract. Following Cabinet Office advice, the contracting authority opened its tender to all suppliers.

Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, said:

Today’s publication of Mystery Shopper results shows how effective government action can level the playing field for SMEs. This is yet another lever, in addition to our actions to scrap unnecessary PQQs and publish all contracts on contracts finder. We will continue to publish these cases regularly so that issues are transparent.

Stephen Allott, Crown Representative for SMEs, said:

The voices of SMEs are getting through to government thanks to the Mystery Shopper initiative, and problems are being dealt with. There is always more to do, but we are on the right path to a more dynamic, transparent and innovative supplier marketplace, which will lead to better government services and better value for money for taxpayers. But we want to hear more - if you spot poor practice this service can make a difference, and we want to hear from you.

Published 1 November 2011