Small IT suppliers have made formal complaints about Technology Products 2 to the Crown Commercial Service's (CCS) Mystery Shopper scheme, highlighting a number of issues it claims are a barrier for SMEs.
CCS publishes the outcomes of its Mystery Shopper service every quarter, briefly outlining the complaints and what happened next. The scheme aims to identify areas in which public sector procurement can be improved.
In the most recent publication, for concerns raised between January and March 2017, details of two supplier complaints made against Technology Products 2 were published.
The first supplier in question raised two concerns: firstly, that requiring suppliers to gain certain vendor partnership status in order to qualify was prohibitive to small firms, because they often have to surpass certain revenue thresholds in order to achieve top-level status; and secondly, that the 3.5 per cent margin cap on certain Lots was too low for SMEs to consider the framework.
Technology Products 2 is the second iteration of the framework and prior to its going live, changes were made to the margin levels achievable on each Lot following talks with existing suppliers.
The outcome of this complaint was that "CCS explained that suppliers need to deliver against all requirements on the Lot and so three other partnership levels were allowed. Also, where an organisation does not have the required vendor partnership levels, the status of sub-contractors could be used. CCS added that smaller suppliers may be suited to Lot 6 on the framework [a catalogue with uncapped margin]. On the issue of a maximum margin of 3.5 per cent, the team explained that the previous margins had been reviewed and discussed with suppliers at pre-market engagement and that 2.5 per cent on software and 3.5 per cent on hardware were in line with best practice. No margin caps exist on Lot 6."
Another complaint from an SME about Technology Products 2 raised the issue that certain elements of it are too labour intensive.
"A small supplier complained that Lot 6 of the Technology Products 2 framework was not SME friendly because SMEs will find it difficult to upload pricing and product data regularly onto the Technical Products 2 catalogue," the complaint read. "[The] outcome [was that] Crown Commercial Service explained that the team had offered assistance and advice to any suppliers on Lot 6 who required help uploading content and pricing. This Lot is designed to allow all suppliers from sole traders to large businesses to simply upload pricing against uniform industry standard and centrally managed content. There are no margin restrictions on this Lot."
Technology Products 2 was not the only IT procurement which came in for criticism on the CCS Mystery Shopper's most recent publication.
One tech supplier of the London Borough of Wandsworth complained after the authority used the Network Services framework for new call-centre technology. The supplier was unhappy because it was the incumbent and it had not been told about the new procurement. The outcome was that the council noted that while it has no obligation to advise non-framework suppliers of further competitions, in future it might be beneficial to keep them informed.
G-Cloud was also put under the microscope, after one supplier said another supplier had said prices were available "on asking", which breaks G-Cloud rules. The Mystery Shopper team asked the supplier in question to change this, as it was at fault.
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