The Crown Commercial Service has recently revised its Standard Selection Questionnaire (“SSQ”) to simplify the supplier selection process in public procurement procedures following the adoption of the Lord Young Reforms under the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 (“PCR 2015”). The SSQ and its accompanying policy note (16/08) will replace the standard Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (“PQQ”) and the previous guidance on supplier selection and PQQs with immediate effect.
Who does this change apply to?
The change applies to all contracting authorities in England, and contracting authorities in Wales and Northern Ireland exercising wholly or mainly reserved functions for above-threshold public procurements that are subject to the PCR 2015.
Why the change?
The SSQ has been developed to simplify the supplier selection process for businesses, in particular for small and medium enterprises (“SMEs”). Supplier selection is a key stage in public procurement where contracting authorities can gather information on and make assessments of the prospective bidders’ credentials before considering tenders. This includes gathering information about companies’ track records, financial credentials, whether they meet various selection criteria, amongst other key areas, some of which can be time-consuming and place an administrative burden on suppliers, particularly SMEs.
The SSQ has been developed to simplify the supplier selection process for businesses across the public sector. In developing the questionnaire the opportunity has been taken to ensure the questionnaire is compliant with the European Single Procurement Document (“ESPD”), and amended the rules on the selection of suppliers.
The new questionnaire aims to facilitate easy access to procurements from suppliers from the devolved administrations and those in the EU, whilst incorporating the exclusion grounds listed in the PCR 2015. With regard to the EU, all contracting authorities must accept the ESPD as preliminary evidence that the tenderer does not meet the conditions for exclusion and meets the relevant selection criteria for the contract.
Standard Selection Questionnaire
The SSQ is structured in three parts:
- Part 1 deals with basic information about the supplier, such as contact details, trading status, details of parent companies, amongst other relevant information;
- Part 2 covers a self-declaration regarding the mandatory exclusions grounds in the PCR 2015 that apply, for example fraud, corruption, child labour offences; and
- Part 3 covers a self-declaration regarding the discretionary exclusions that apply, for example breach of environmental, social or labour obligations, and also seeks to discover whether or not the supplier meets the economic, financial, technical and professional selection criteria.
Although the new process of supplier selection is very similar to the old one, it also introduces some new features and a new form.
The main change to the current process is that verification of the declarations, of both the exclusion grounds and the selection information, should only now take place with winning suppliers at the award stage. The SSQ now asks potential suppliers to simply ‘self-declare’ their status against the exclusion grounds and selection questions rather than providing the accompanying evidence to support this.
It should also be noted that such exclusion grounds now correlate to those within the PCR 2015 and the ESPD.
Can we amend the SSQ?
Contracting authorities are not permitted to change or add to the questions in Part 1 and Part 2 of SSQ and there is an expectation that there is also no deviation from the questions in Part 3. Any deviation from the SSQ must be reported to the Crown Commercial Service Mystery Shopper scheme at the email address [email protected].
A deviation may encompass changes to the wording of the standard questions and instructions or additional questions that are not specific to a specific procurement process.
When reporting a deviation, a contracting authority is required to explain why they have deviated from the SSQ and explain why they believe the amendments are relevant, proportionate and linked to the requirements of the contract and contract delivery, confirm that the deviations are approved by the Head of Procurement (or equivalent) and a copy of the questions used must also be provided. The contracting authority may also wish to provide a summary of the deviations.
It is not necessary to report project specific questions developed in accordance with guidance, simple amendments required for compatibility with e-procurement systems or standard questions which are omitted.
The key actions for those contracting authorities bound by the note are as follows:
- Stop using the standard PQQ for the supplier selection stage of new procurements covered by the PCR 2015;
- Start using the new SSQ and comply with the guidance, process and the standard form in the relevant annexes; and
- Tell potential suppliers in the procurement documents how they are to access and submit the Selection Questionnaire.
The change is aimed at modernising a longstanding procurement practice rather than a major change in the fundamental approach of supplier selection. It moves to self-declaration rather than having the administrative and time consuming burden of providing numerous documents which, for some suppliers, will inevitably be a fruitless task – this should build on the benefits to suppliers sought by introducing the Lord Young reforms. However, the impact of the change is instant and suppliers must ensure they use the new questionnaire in accordance with the policy note with immediate effect.