A mystery shopper scheme designed to pick up on issues in public sector procurement processes is making an impact on buying practices, the Cabinet Office has said.

In total, 463 complaints have been made since the scheme began two years ago, of which 392 have now been resolved, according to government figures. Of these, eight out of ten are reported to have led to changes in the way public sector buyers go about purchasing goods.

The most recent batch of complaints was published last week (August 12th), with 45 cases having been resolved since last November. Just over half of these ended with a buying authority accepting recommendations to change their practices in the future. In fact, in 11 cases existing procurement contracts were adjusted after the Cabinet Office became involved.

In some cases the government intervened in a live procurement process to extend deadlines and insist on the removal of specific pre-requisites before suppliers bid for contracts.

According to the Cabinet Office, one of the recurring themes in complaints is overdue payment, indicating that government targets regarding prompt payment may not be being met. Financial appraisals and frameworks have also proved to be causes for concern.

Pre-Qualification Questionnaires also appeared in more than one complaint. These documents are intended to ensure that firms certify they are capable of meeting the demands of a contract before they reach the bidding stage. However, the Environment Agency had to retract a PQQ when a mystery shopper pointed out that the contract value was below the EU threshold for their use. It then issued another questionnaire which was more friendly to small businesses.

In another significant case, the London Legacy Development Corporation agreed to adopt new government guidance to make sure that its financial appraisal of suppliers is risk-based and proportionate to the contract value.

Hertfordshire County Council also changed the requirements for its schools Management Information Services framework bidding process. After a mystery shopper questioned the requirement for bidders to have run similar schemes in at least 50 institutions, the council rephrased its requirements to ask for experience in “a significant number” of schools.

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