News - 01 July 2014

Government’s “Mystery Shopper” Service aims to help SME procurement

Mystery Shopper Service: serious about helping SMEs

Our commitment to creating simpler procurement processes in the public sector@GovMysteryShop

Reforming the public sector

As part of the Government’s long-term economic plan, we are committed to reforming the public sector by improving services, delivering savings and creating a bigger role for small and medium-sized entreprises (SMEs), social enterprises and mutuals.

We want to make it easier for small businesses – the lifeblood of our economy – to access some of the £230bn of annual public sector spending. The aim is for 25 per cent of central government spending to be with small firms by 2015.

Mystery Shopper – tackling poor procurement practice in the public sector

Mystery Shopper is an informal, anonymous service allowing businesses to raise concerns and highlight the barriers they encounter when bidding for, or working on, public sector contracts. Issues can include:

  • late payment                                                     
  • unfair or overly bureaucratic procurement practice
  • procurement that does not comply with government policy or EU rules        

Who benefits most from Mystery Shopper?

86 per cent of the concerns raised via Mystery Shopper are from SMEs.  Four out of five (79 per cent) closed Mystery Shopper cases have resulted in a positive outcome. We want to work with more SMES, and we know that SMEs stand a higher chance of winning public sector business if the procurement processes are simpler and more accountable.

Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude said:  “Small businesses are our economy’s life-blood so as part of our long-term plan we are ensuring they have the chance to compete for and win Government contracts. Before the 2010 General Election no one even bothered to monitor what contracts they were getting but now we know that since then they are winning significantly more contracts. Mystery Shopper allows small businesses to raise concerns directly about procurement practices.”

Stephen Allott, the Crown Representative for SMEs said:“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.”

How does Mystery Shopper work?

Issues or queries can be reported anonymously to the Mystery Shopper team; by sending an email to or by telephoning the Mystery Shopper Service Desk on 0345 010 3503. The Mystery Shopper team also carries out daily spot checks on procurement documentation.

The Mystery Shopper team investigate, sometimes when the procurement is live, and work with the contracting authority to reach a resolution. The results of cases are published online at GOV.UK and will soon by tweeted in real-time by the new Mystery Shopper Twitter handle, @GovMysteryShop.

What is the new Mystery Shopper Twitter service?

On 1 July, we are introducing the @GovMysteryShop twitter handle.Businesses will be able to use this to find out more about the Mystery Shopper service, and how they can report concerns. We will also be tweeting real-time case outcomes and general findings from spot checks.

The future

The Mystery Shopper ‘Three Years On’ Report published on 1 July on GOV.UK, shows that late payment and unfair or overly bureaucratic processes are big issues for small businesses. That’s why Government is planning to introduce major procurement legislation to tackle this later in the year.

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