The Crown Commercial Service (CCS) has just published a procurement policy note containing statutory guidance on the selection stage and an updated version of its standard pre-qualification questionnaire. This is mandated for use in over-threshold procurements by virtue of Regulation 107. We look at the new questionnaire, how it should be used, and new guidance on what amounts to a “reportable deviation”.
Why was a new PQQ document needed?
The old PQQ needed updating in order to fit together with the requirements of the European Single Procurement Document (ESPD). There has been an obligation on contracting authorities to accept ESPDs since January of this year and of course a mismatch has arisen between the standard form ESPD and the CCS’s PQQ. The ESPD allows suppliers to simply self-certify that they meet the requirements, with the contracting authority seeking evidence of this only from the winning bidder at the end of the process. The new document is aligned with the ESPD.
Key points to note
The “Pre-Qualification Questionnaire” (PQQ) is now known as a “Selection Questionnaire” (SQ).
Authorities should stop using the old PQQ and start using the SQ with immediate effect. The guidance is silent on the question but we assume this instruction is in relation to new SQs being issued and there is no requirement to recall PQQs that are already being used in a current procurement.
The SQ is structured in three parts, not dissimilar to the old PQQ. Part 1 of the standard SQ covers the basic information about the supplier. Part 2 covers a self-declaration regarding whether or not any of the exclusion grounds apply. Part 3 covers a self-declaration regarding whether or not the company meets the economic, financial, technical and professional selection criteria. There then follow some "additional" questions at the end of the document.
The exclusion grounds in the SQ now correlate to those in the latest version of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 and in the ESPD (eg, including, where applicable, exclusions around the Modern Slavery Act 2015).
Contracting authorities will need to brief potential candidates on how they can access the SQ and submit their responses. The guidance envisages three options (1) include all three parts of the SQ with the procurement documents; (2) direct suppliers to the Commission's EU-ESPD service for parts 1 and 2, and include standard selection questions separately within the procurement documents; or (3) provide access details to an e-procurement system that asks the same questions as listed in the standard SQ plus any procurement-specific questions.
Self-certification declarations are required as part of the selection stage not only from suppliers but also from any other supplier being relied on to meet the selection criteria. The guidance reminds contracting authorities of the "self-cleaning" procedure which allows suppliers who have breached the criteria to demonstrate that they have "righted their wrongs".
Contracting authorities must accept self-certifications via the EU-ESPD template, even if this is in the format adopted by another member state.
Evidence of compliance need not be requested until award stage (although the winning bidder's evidence must be checked prior to award). That said, evidence may be requested at an earlier stage if the contracting authority decides this is necessary.
Deviations are not permitted from Parts 1 and 2. You can deviate from Part 3 provide you report. The guidance says you must report:
- changes to the wording of the standard questions and instructions; and
- additional questions that are included which are not specific to the individual procurement.
Helpfully, the guidance confirms that additional questions which are specific to the procurement do not need to be reported, nor does the decision to leave out a question or tweak wording to make it compatible with e-procurement systems. You only need to report once (which is helpful for those authorities wishing to report an on-going deviation in their standard form SQ).
The prohibition on holding a separate selection stage for under-threshold procurements remains.
The guidance notes that, while completing parts 1 and 2 is not mandatory for over-threshold 'light touch regime' procurements for health, social and other services, nonetheless it would be good practice to exclude a supplier against those criteria in any event, and recommends that parts 1 and 2 are used even where the procurement is light touch, together with part 3 around economic and financial standing and technical and professional capacity.
Interestingly, the SQ no longer contains the "additional PQQ modules" on, for example, Health and Safety, Environmental Management or Compliance with Equality Legislation that used to feature at the end of the old PQQ. Instead, additional modules on e.g. Steel, skills and apprenticeships are set out, to be included depending on whether the relevant policy in those areas applies to the contracting authority in question. Presumably, however, the old additional modules could still be included in the additional modules section if desired.