12 New "Selection Questionnaire" for procurement exercises
On 26 September 2016, the Crown Commercial Service (CCS), the body responsible for implementing the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 (the Regulations) on behalf of the UK government, released Procurement Policy Note 08/16 (the Note).
The Note mandates the use of a new "Selection Questionnaire" (SQ) which replaces the CCS's template Pre-Qualification Questionnaire. The CCS states that the new SQ should be adopted for all procurements for public services and supplies contracts from the date of the Note onwards.
The SQ is divided into three core sections, called "Parts". Part 1 deals with basic company information about the bidding organisations. Part 2 asks applicants to specify whether any of the mandatory and discretionary exclusion criteria set out in Regulation 57 apply to their organisation. The Note specifies that Parts 1 and 2 of the SQ cannot be amended, so contracting authorities who use their own precedent pre-qualification documents should ensure that these are updated to reflect the wording of the new SQ. Alternatively, applicants may complete the European Single Procurement Document (which is identical to Parts 1 and 2), and submit this in lieu of answering Part 1 and 2 of the SQ.
Part 3 contains a series of questions on financial standing and technical and professional ability. The Note is more flexible on the use of these questions. The Note states that Part 3 can be amended to incorporate "project-specific" questions, although CCS has not defined this term. Project-specific questions do not need to be reported to the CCS, so contracting authorities may wish to take advantage of this rule to import questions reflecting their commercial requirements.
Contracting authorities are still required to report deviations from the wording of Part 3, though CCS has provided clearer guidance on what constitutes a deviation and how it should be reported. Deviations are defined as changes to the wording of any Part of the SQ, but do not include the following:
- project-specific questions;
- simple amendments to make the SQ compatible with an e-procurement system; or
- standard questions that the contracting authority has decided to omit.
Deviation reports should be sent in an email to CCS, explaining the reasons for any deviations and demonstrating that the changes are relevant, proportionate and linked to the requirements of the contract and contract delivery. The report must be signed off by the contracting authority's head of procurement or equivalent role.
As with the 2015 template pre-qualification questionnaire, the SQ does not contain any guidance on the scoring or weighting of questions. Contracting authorities must, therefore, populate the template with their scoring matrix for the relevant contract.
In the Note, the CCS reiterates its earlier guidance that financial assessments should not be made solely with reference to an applicant's minimum turnover. The CCS's Mystery Shopper Service has recently queried contracting authorities who use Pass/Fail criteria to exclude applicants who fail to meet a minimum turnover threshold. The CCS states that while minimum turnover can be used as part of a wider investigation into an applicant's financial standing, it should not be used as a "tripwire" to fail applicants. Contracting authorities which wish to disqualify applicants failing to meet minimum turnover requirements will need to provide robust commercial justification for doing so.
The CCS also encourages contracting authorities to allow applicants to "self- certify" the SQ requirements and only ask for certifying documents from winning applicants at the contract award stage. This is designed to lessen the administrative burden of submitting SQs. Contracting authorities are still able to ask for documents at selection stage where the proper conduct of the procurement process may require documentation to be seen sooner rather than later. With this in mind, contracting authorities should consider whether they require sight of certain documents before entering the tender stage.
In respect of public works contracts, the CCS states that the PAS 91 template pre- qualification questionnaire should be used, but falls short of mandating its use for such procurements. Contracting authorities therefore need to consider whether to adopt PAS 91 on works contracts or use an amended version of the SQ.
Overall, the new SQ should not represent a major departure for social landlords in the selection stage of procurements. They should ensure that the SQ and guidance is adopted as soon as possible and consider carefully how to balance the use of the SQ against the need for a robust selection process.