The most recent Procurement Policy Note has outlined the most extensive and wide-ranging changes to public procurement since the introduction of the updated Standard Selection Questionnaire (SQ) in September 2016, which formally replaced the pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ).
As its title indicates, the overall function of the SQ is used to collect information from prospective suppliers, with a standardised format to ensure bidders are comfortable with the process. Split into three parts, the SQ contains two types of questions:
- Questions designed to collect standard background information on the bidder organisation, such as name, contact details, VAT registration number and registered address.
- Questions designed to collect information on the organisation’s suitability for the contract, including technical capability, relevant experience and financial probity when making payments to vendors and subcontractors.
Published on 9 March, PPN 03/23 ushered in statutory updates on the selection questionnaire, based on feedback from bidder organisations received on PPN 08/16. The majority of changes are concentrated in Part 3, where suppliers are required to give evidence and self-declarations related to technical and professional ability.
Data protection and GDPR
Section 7.2 of the updated SQ requires tenderers to confirm and provide details of technical facilities and measures in place to ensure compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation 2018 and protection of data subjects.
While questions around data protection and GDPR have occasionally been included as part of supplementary questions to the standard SQ, it was incumbent upon purchasing authorities to decide whether the tendered goods or services merited its inclusion. As of 1 April, this question will now become mandatory – businesses should begin making arrangements for its inclusion, looking to address the following areas:
- Verifying the ongoing confidentiality, integrity and resilience of processing systems and services
- Complying with rights of data subjects in accordance with legislation
- Ensuring safeguards are in place for legitimate transfers of personal data outside the EU
- Maintaining detailed records of activities in the capacity of a data processor
- Implementing regular testing, assessment and evaluations on the efficacy of the above measures.
With data protection requirements coming to the forefront of buyer priorities, it is essential to dedicate the appropriate time and resources in comprehensively answering this addition to the SQ.
Health and safety arrangements
Directly following the new question around data protection and GDPR is a requirement to outline health and safety arrangements and control significant risks over the contract term. The response is limited to 500 words, requiring targeted and concise evidence around the strength of your policies. A strong response to this new addition may include (but not necessarily be limited to) the following:
- Any health and safety certifications and credentials held by your organisation, such as ISO 45001:2018, Constructionline Gold or CHAS accreditation
- Details of your nominated health and safety representative and their experience and qualifications
- Procedures for risk assessments and subsequent method statements to control hazards, including methods for conducting dynamic risk assessments
- Measures for monitoring health and safety during works-in-progress, inclusive of any checklists or templates employees are required to complete prior to or after conducting works
- Periodic reviews of all health and safety practices to determine their continued suitability and sufficiency, with revisions or amendments to processes made if necessary.
Health and safety is one of the most common topics within quality responses. Submitting a strong response for the new section 7.3 question is crucial – if you do not provide sufficiently detailed or relevant information, you could risk an automatic failure to progress to the ITT stage.
Located in section 7.10, the inclusion of this question was prefigured by PPN 02/23, which sought to strengthen the identification and management of modern slavery risks within the government’s supply chains.
Organisations with a turnover greater than £36 million are required by law to publish an annual statement on their methodology for eliminating modern slavery within their business and across the supply chain. However, SMEs which do not meet the minimum threshold will be advised to create a targeted response detailing their due diligence for complying with Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, including:
- Regular audits of the company’s organisational structure and supply chains
- Ensuring all company policies maintain compliance with relevant legislation and industry best practice
- Providing training to employees on identifying signs of modern slavery, trafficking and domestic servitude.
Demonstrating your compliance with relevant modern slavery legislation and industry best practice will allay any reservations from evaluators, allowing you to progress to the ITT stage.
Although only mandatory for opportunities issued by the central government where the values exceed £5 million per annum, a new question requiring suppliers to outline their carbon reduction efforts is also included as part of the updated SQ. It requires bidders to provide a link to their most recently published Carbon Reduction Plan, self-certification of a commitment to achieve Net Zero by 2050, the organisational Net Zero target date and a calculation of Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions.
As with the new criteria for modern slavery, the carbon reduction requirements were foreshadowed by PPN 06/21, which was issued to integrate Carbon Reduction Plans into the procurement of major government contracts.
Updated payment questions
Similar to the carbon reduction question, responses are only mandatory for central government contracts with a total value of more than £5 million per annum. Stretching from section 7.4 to 7.6, payment questions include a mix of self-declaration, evidence-based submissions and quality responses – in order, they are:
- Confirmation of intent to use a supply chain for the contract, and correct systems to provide prompt and effective payment to all supply chain partners. If all works which form the agreement are delivered in-house, subsequent questions are not necessary.
- Confirmation of procedures in place to resolve any issues that arise regarding any disputed invoices or payments, with supporting evidence in the form of a narrative response or attached document.
- Providing the percentage of invoices paid in the immediate supply chain over the last calendar year, with a breakdown of invoices paid within 1) 30 days or less, 2) 31 to 60 days, 3) 61 days or more and 4) due but not paid by the last date of payment under service level agreements.
If less than 95% of payable invoices have been paid within 60 days of receipt of invoice, you will be required to submit an action plan detailing measures for improvement, including identification of primary causes of failure to pay, actions to address each of these causes, mechanisms and commitment to regular progress reports and an official plan signed by your organisation’s director and published on your company website.
The questions are supplementary to the original SQ questions around subcontractors and the implementation of payment in accordance with the Prompt Payment Code, found in section 6.3 following contract examples.
Since our formation in 2009, Executive Compass have advised clients on regulatory and statutory changes within public procurement, while successfully supporting over 7,000 ITT, PQQ and SQ submissions. To find out more on the range of our bid and tender writing services, contact our sales and marketing team today at 0800 612 5563 or via email email@example.com.
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