Protections in Procurement

The Mystery Shopper Service protects you as a supplier.Bid writing is often seen as a “dark art.” No matter how much you put into the client relationship, no matter how well you polish your proposal, you can still lose the tender. Not only is this frustrating, it can also make you lose faith in the public procurement system. You can end up feeling like the results are arbitrary. Or, even worse, that they are corrupt, and the buyer had a supplier in mind from the start.

There is no doubt that there is some level of “dodgy dealing”. It’s inevitable in a procurement system that spends £300 billion each year. But it’s probably far lower than we might think. The UK ranks 10th on the Corruption Perception Index, on par with Germany and Luxembourg, and better than countries like the US and Japan. The Index covers much more than public spending, but it’s a good indicator nonetheless.

This is in part due to strong EU Directives on procurement. These rules will be kept following our departure from the EU, at least initially. This is why contracts in most industries worth more than £181,302 are published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU). The rules provide assurance to suppliers that tenders will be handled in a fair, open, and transparent manner.

The UK also has an extra level of safeguarding against corruption in the system. The Mystery Shopper Service. This sits within the Crown Commercial Service (CCS), the central UK procurement authority. Launched in February 2011, the Service allows suppliers to raise concerns about poor procurement practice. The two main areas that are investigated are where a buyer has flouted the Public Contracts Regulations and where they have failed to uphold their payment obligations.

For example, CCS today issued a case study in which they helped a supplier resolve a payment issue with the Home Office. According to the case study:

“A SME supplier contacted the CCS Mystery Shopper service to advise that they were struggling to get purchase orders raised with the Home Office and as a result were not getting paid. The supplier was on a Gcloud 6 contract supplying contractors to the Home Office digital team and owed in excess of £700,000 between April – August 2017.”

Cashflow is king, and for an SME to be owed £700,000 is to be put in a potentially catastrophic situation. Presumably the SME in question raised the issue with the Home Office to no avail, and so they reported it to the Mystery Shopper Service. The Service then opened an investigation and discovered the cause of the problem:

“…a new approvals process with split work areas had caused some elements of confusion and built in delay.”

After raising the case, the Service worked with the Home Office to come up with a solution. It appears that in this scenario (and I imagine this happens with most reports), the attention of the Mystery Shopper Service was enough to kick the Home Office into action. The full £700,000 was paid within 6 weeks of the case being raised, and the Home Office put out assurances “…that lessons will be learnt with this case so that these issues do not reoccur again.”

So, if you ever have suspicions that a procurement process is being handled incorrectly, or you’re having problems with non-paying buyer, use the Mystery Shopper Service to hopefully get a positive outcome. You can find out more information on the service here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/mystery-shopper-scope-and-remit.

Bid writing isn’t a dark art. There are protections in place. If your proposals are well researched, well planned, and well written you will win far more opportunities than you lose. Don’t let the odd loss stop you; you can’t win ‘em all! Focus on building momentum in your bids, making each one better than the last.

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