Making light work of the shortlist – A straightforward approach to your PQQ

Pre-qualification Questionnaires (PQQs) are an essential element of the public sector tendering process. Public sector best practice dictates that they should be used wherever there is a procurement requirement. Used well, a PQQ will not only ensure that suppliers can fulfil a range of essential criteria; it also gives them an opportunity to demonstrate their competence and suitability for the contract in question.

A PQQ can also be an incredibly effective tool for buyers. It allows them to more effectively sort large numbers of potential suppliers; separating those who have the capabilities they need from those who do not – before progressing to the lengthier tender stage.

However, while intended to shorten and simplify the buying process, PQQs have earned themselves a reputation for being unwieldy and time consuming. Until recently, suppliers would find themselves completing numerous PQQs requesting similar information in different formats, or with questions worded in a way that was difficult to understand. The PQQ process has been generally viewed as an unpopular obstacle to securing a public sector contract, causing UK government to both restrict their use for contracts below defined thresholds* and to mandate the use of standardised questions for contracts above those thresholds.

Making life easier for public sector buyers

Thanks to the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, PQQs have changed significantly in recent years. The aim of new regulation has primarily been to make the process less of a burden for suppliers – and to level the field for smaller businesses. Industry stakeholders have also acted on this front; for example, PAS91 was developed by government in partnership with the British Standards Institute (BSI) and the former Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). It comprises a Publicly Available Specification for PQQs in construction related tenders. Launched back in 2010, it has been revised twice to better reflect the needs of buyers and suppliers. The most recent changes in 2017 mean that PAS91 is now completely up to date and aligns with recent legislation laid out by the Minimum Wage Act and Immigration Act, as well as the Construction Regulations 2015.

For buyers, this is all good news. New PQQ regulation creates greater clarity for everyone involved in the procurement process and helps a broader range of suppliers compete for contracts. With public sector businesses under pressure to use more SME suppliers – the Cabinet Office wants £1 of every £3 spent on government targets to be allocated to SME suppliers by 2022 – anything which facilities tender submissions from SMEs is a positive for procurement teams.

Unfortunately, what the new regulations don’t do is remove the administrative burden of conducting the PQQ process. For larger public sector organisations with complex supply chains, the ongoing task of ensuring that PPQ processes are up to date and compliant remains a time-consuming exercise. In addition, developing an adapted or bespoke PQQ that’s perfectly shaped to meet the specific needs of your business can be difficult. This is particularly true when internal teams are already over-stretched or in-house experts simply aren’t available. In these instances, it can be sensible to outsource PPQ requirements.

The benefits of outsourcing PQQ

For buyers who are aware of a need to overhaul their PQQ processes, the first question which will come to mind is probably: can we achieve this in-house? If resources are in short supply or the process is likely to experience significant delays, it may be better to use an external service provider.

Our advice here would be, always choose a provider that fully understands your compliance obligations and can be flexible to your needs. Some in-house procurement teams will lack the time or expertise to conduct a complete PQQ overhaul, while others may be well-equipped for some parts of the project but have one or two gaps that an expert partner could fill. This might mean an external provider is tasked with reshaping the PQQ template and assessing new and existing contractors, or simply providing a one-off assessment and leaving internal teams in complete control of the PQQ.

At Constructionline, we understand that every organisation is different and that PQQ processes need to reflect that, while also adhering to regulations. That’s why we’ve built flexibility into all our services – to ensure we can give buyers exactly what they need to keep procurement processes running smoothly. Our overarching aim is to relieve the burden of the PQQ process and support compliance in all we do. We can also offer a fast track service when time is of the essence and one-off assessments or a full supply-chain review if needed. By helping buyers identify, understand and manage the risks associated with suppliers, contractors and sub-contractors, we believe that we can help them to create better supply chain standards and drive the growth of profitable relationships with customers.

*The EU threshold for use of a PQQ for purchase of goods and services is currently £111,676 in central government and £172,514 outside central government.

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Blog Buyers, Public Sector, SMEs
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