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Demystifying PPN 03/24: What businesses need to know about the Common Assessment Standard in public procurement

Demystifying PPN 03/24

There’s recently been some confusion surrounding the Government’s Procurement Policy Note (PPN) 03/24 and its implications for pre-qualification questionnaires (PQQs) in public sector contracts. Some have stated PPN 03/24 mandates that the  Common Assessment Standard (CAS) needs to be used. In reality, the update serves as a recommendation rather than an obligation, primarily aimed at projects exceeding £5 million.

Here, we’ll make clear what PPN 03/24 truly means for construction sector businesses involved in public procurement, and how you can position yourself in light of the changes.

 

What is PPN 03/24 and what does it say about the Common Assessment Standard?

PPN 03/24 is a guidance document issued by the UK Government to standardise, improve efficiency and drive up levels of safety at the pre-qualification stage in public sector procurement, especially for work contracts. It offers specific advice on using the Common Assessment Standard as a pre-qualification tool. The standard’s main objective is to create a more streamlined and consistent process for assessing the capabilities and compliance of potential suppliers. 

Several reports have suggested the update, released in late March, mandates a complete shift from PAS 91 to Common Assessment Standard. This isn’t the case – the text says “…contracting authorities should use the Common Assessment Standard”. The British Standards Institution has withdrawn PAS 91, which is why the Government recommends using the Common Assessment Standard during the PQQ stage – and so do we.

While it may sound like semantics, it’s important to note the distinction between “should” and “must” in Government pronouncements: 

  • Should: Indicates a recommendation that’s generally expected to be followed
  • Must: Signifies a mandatory requirement

In this case, the Common Assessment Standard for works contracts above the £5 million threshold is a strong recommendation.

 

Why is the Government making this recommendation?

The Government’s recommendation is rooted in several key motivations. PAS 91, introduced in 2010, served as a foundational PQQ but faced challenges keeping pace with industry demands and regulatory changes. In contrast, the Common Assessment Standard – developed by Build UK in partnership with Constructionline – offers a comprehensive framework that expands beyond PAS 91’s scope.

In fact, despite it not being a requirement, our message is that the Common Assessment Standard is more desirable for buyers anyway. In addition to continuing to drive additional safety into the construction industry, here’s why:

Standardisation
Firstly, standardisation is a significant factor. the Common Assessment Standard provides a unified set of questions that all contracting authorities can use. This reduces variability and ensures all potential suppliers are assessed on the same criteria. By helping create a level playing field, it’s easier for you to compare and select suppliers fairly.

Efficiency
Secondly, the efficiency of the procurement process is enhanced through the Common Assessment Standard. By adopting a standardised pre-qualification tool, both buyers and suppliers can save time and resources. The Common Assessment Standard is designed to minimise duplication, particularly for suppliers who often have to complete multiple, slightly different PQQs for various contracts. This streamlined approach reduces administrative burdens and accelerates the procurement timeline.

Transparency
Finally, transparency is improved with the Common Assessment Standard. The structured approach of the Common Assessment Standard ensures all suppliers are aware of the requirements and can prepare accordingly. This transparency promotes a more competitive environment, where suppliers are better informed and can present their qualifications to you more effectively.

 

Understanding PPN 03/24 – the key points

In our recent webinar, we discussed the new changes to help suppliers understand how they can stay on track. PPN 03/24 outlines several important points regarding the use of the Common Assessment Standard. For procurement above specific thresholds (£5.337 million for work contracts), contracting authorities are advised to use the Common Assessment Standard, and below that level, they can use it proportionally. This means while the Common Assessment Standard is recommended, it must be applied in a manner that is relevant and appropriate to the scale and complexity of the contract being procured.

Regarding documentation, suppliers are not required to provide all supporting evidence during the initial stages of the process, unless specifically requested. However, successful bidders must present this evidence before the contract is awarded, as part of the due diligence process. This approach balances the need for thorough vetting with the practicalities of managing the procurement process efficiently.

For contracts below the defined thresholds, PPN 03/24 recommends a one-stage procurement process. In such cases, while the Common Assessment Standard may still be used to develop proportionate questions, it is not mandatory. This flexibility allows contracting authorities to tailor their approach based on the specific requirements and value of the contract.

The Common Assessment Standard also aligns with the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015), ensuring suppliers meet health and safety requirements from SSIP assessments. This reinforces the importance of health and safety compliance in public sector works contracts.

Importantly, PPN 03/24 does not say an assessor must undertake Common Assessment Standard assessments. Contracting authorities can use the Common Assessment Standard question set and conduct their own assessments, providing flexibility in how they implement the guidance.

 

Become more attractive to buyers and save time with the Common Assessment Standard – Constructionline’s Gold and Platinum offers

At Constructionline, we are proud to have helped develop the Common Assessment Standard, working with Build UK. As a result, we’re ready to help you make this shift, and boast the largest pool of Common Assessment Standard-compliant suppliers in the UK. Our Gold and Platinum memberships are specifically tailored to meet Common Assessment Standard requirements, making them ideal solutions for public sector buyers seeking qualified and reliable suppliers.

For those already on these membership tiers, it means you’re immediately ready to get aligned with the latest Government recommendations. For Silver members looking to elevate their capabilities and remain competitive in public sector tenders, now is the perfect time to upgrade to Gold membership.

Upgrading not only ensures alignment with the Common Assessment Standard, but also grants access to additional tools and assessments. These are crucial for meeting key areas of the Building Safety Act and other critical regulatory requirements. These tools include BSA Assessments, which enable you to quickly and easily demonstrate your compliance with the Building Safety Act, and use specific elements of industry-recognised standards, such as the Common Assessment Standard.

 

How you can respond today

Despite widespread misconception, PPN 03/24 does not make the Common Assessment Standard mandatory for public contracts tendering – but it is recommended.

When it comes to the Common Assessment Standard, we’re the most trusted provider of support to the construction industry. We’re also the only place where you can have your compliance certified and instantly display those credentials to a nationwide group of buyers via Marketplace. With our expertise and resources, we can guide you through the process of upgrading to Gold membership, ensuring seamless access to a vast network of Common Assessment Standard-compliant suppliers.

We believe choosing to make this shift will boost your transparency, efficiency and industry-standard practices in public sector procurement.

For more information on how Constructionline can assist you in maximising the benefits of the Common Assessment Standard, contact us today.

 

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Blog Common Assessment Standard, Public Sector, PAS91
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