In one of the biggest shocks in the entire history of UK public sector procurement, we will have to get used to a major change in terminology. The Pre-Qualification Questionnaire, known and loved for thousands of procurement years, has become the Selection Questionnaire, and we will need to re-programme our brains to say “SQ” when for many years “PQQ” has tripped off the tongue. Actually, we are exaggerating the importance of this change in real operational terms, but getting used to the new words will prove genuinely difficult for many of us veterans, we suspect.
Recently, CCS, the Crown Commercial Service (part of the UK Cabinet Office) issued a Policy Note which explains the change and the reasons behind it. The Policy Note says that this should not be seen as major shift in the fundamental approach for what we used to call the pre-qualification stage, and now need to call the selection stage. That terminology does have the potential for confusion as “selection” does sound like “selecting the supplier” – whereas it actually means selection of suppliers to go forward to the tender and the award stage.
The old standard CCS PQQ needed updating to meet the requirements of the European Single Procurement Document (ESPD). Contracting authorities have been obliged to accept ESPDs since January 2016 and this has led to a misalignment between the standard ESPD and the CCS’s recommended PQQ.
The aim of the ESPD is primarily to allow suppliers to submit the same basic information in the same format to contracting authorities in any EU country. It also allows suppliers to self-certify that they meet certain of the PQQ / SQ requirements, with the contracting authority seeking hard evidence of this only from the winning bidder at the end of the process.
This does of course have the risk that the winning supplier cannot in fact self-certify to the buyer’s satisfaction when that moment comes. But the hope is that this will be an unusual occurrence and the benefit of the simpler process for bidders outweighs that risk. However, we understand that you can still ask for the evidence earlier in the process if that is justified.
The new document is aligned with the ESPD. But there are some interesting consequences; so for example, contracting authorities must accept self-certifications via the EU-ESPD template, even if this is in the format adopted by another member state. So this really is an interesting move towards a more common approach to public procurement across the EU, even if it does only apply to this particular element of the process.
Contracting authorities must use the new SQ immediately, although there does not seem to be any requirement to abandon any current procurement exercises or re-issue documents (thankfully)! And of course you can still ask questions that are specific to the particular procurement in order to qualify and to rank bidders if this is a case where there are more qualified bidders than you want to take through to tender stage.
Finally, the ban (in the UK) on holding a separate selection stage for under-threshold procurements remains – we still have very mixed feelings about that policy, but it is UK law now so there’s no point arguing …
Anyway, as well as taking a look at the actual Policy Note, which is well-written as usual, we suggest you take a look at the useful summary of the changes on the website of leading public sector procurement lawyers Mills and Reeve here.
And remember, I will be chairing a panel discussion at the European Commission’s annual conference on innovative public procurement in Berlin on October 26th where the ESPD and the “once-only principle” will be our hot topics … you can still book here (we think)!