I have been hesitant about writing this post, probably because I feel unqualified but also because it will be controversial. Yet, I feel compelled to say something simply because this is my work. It is that part of my work that makes me feel inadequate. Why? Because hard working people are being disqualified by a procurement system even before they start out on this process. It is because of this I feel the need to at least have an opinion on this issue.
Firstly, let me say that I firmly believe we need a process in place for vetting consultants, contractors and suppliers. If you were to buy a new house and needed access you would of course be given a set of keys. The Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) happens to be the ‘set of keys’ to get on to that all important Approved Suppliers List, Framework Agreement or Tender List.
I am sure that the PQQ route gives the client peace of mind when selecting the right contractor and or consultant to carry out their business for them; after all they want to experience best value for their money! I think Constructionline provides the template to do just this by giving all parties on both sides of the fence a fair opportunity.
Constructionline – The commonsense solution for both sides of the tender
As a supplier, you’ll know that jumping through the same vetting hoops every time you tender is not a brilliant use of time and resources. And for buyers, sifting through pre-qualification data and keeping it up to date adds up to a similarly wasteful job. Constructionline helps both sides of the deal bypass these problems, saving everyone time, money and hassle in the process.
Constructionline is run by the services company Capita and although it grew out of the old DETR which was free to join, a fee is now charged. It was set up to check the financial and technical status of contractors and consultants. With some modifications it could be used on a much broader basis. Again, this I will leave with those who have the qualifications to make the judgement but the industry is spending far too many man hours filling out these endless forms with no return except for the large national companies. (Enough said about this for now!)
Procurement has Changed!
I understand that some will say that one size does not fit all and I would agree. However, we do need to challenge the current procurement process for the sake of small business!
We are, it seems being driven more and more by Procurement Specialists and Financial people. This is self evident with the proliferation of Procurement portals and accreditations. I speak with organizations every day and find it hard to understand that a local authority struggling to meet budgets uses both Constructionline and Exor to vet contractors and consultants. So, if a small Builder or an architectural practice for instance wants to work for this authority they must find £100s a year to stay on their list. Often, without any tender enquiries. You might forgive me here but that is a scandal!
“Before subscribing for an accreditation do your homework!
Real life Examples
Again, let me say that if I wanted to invest money in to a building project I would want to take up references from the design team and contractor. And, I would want to see some of their current work. This real life example is what I am talking about. A school has £80K to extend a science laboratory. They instruct the architect to advertise a project using a PQQ and over 80 contractors apply. How many man hours will be taken up sifting through these returns? And, this is only the first stage of the procurement process before selecting 8 contractors to tender. There has to be a better way!
Over a month ago an advert was placed in the SE Business Portal for a scheme and contractors were asked to complete a PQQ for a £170K job. Some time later I spoke to the Estates Manager to get some feedback on our submission, which is a key task of my marketing. He came across as being slightly frustrated that after being told by Procurement to advertise the project and issue PQQ’s to interested contractors he was deluged with a huge response. My feeling is that there must be a better way of procuring the services of a contractor for a £170K job. Once the PQQs have been vetted then the second stage of inviting contractors to tender will take place. Guess what? This authority is now thinking of taking the framework route! Am I the only person who thinks this is a frightening scenario and one which causes small businesses to throw in the towel?
I spoke with an officer at a well known university who was overseeing hundreds of submissions for a project. I asked him for some feedback and although we had completed an excellent submission and scored well we were unsuccessful. Fair enough! However, I then pushed forward a little and asked him if this institution had already appointed the consultant ‘of their choice!’ prior to this required PQQ process. His reply, “Yes!” So, their standing orders requires that they go out to tender through a 2 stage process but they have already made up their minds who they will appoint. It is no wonder people are cynical about this process. Personally, I think it is unjust!
His further comments were very enlightening. He said that when he had acted in a private capacity as a consultant for an organization he submitted many of these PQQs. He did not win one of them! In fact on one occasion he was told that he had been the only person to submit the correct return but still did not win. You can understand my concerns about this procurement vehicle!
Am I dreaming?
Well, I have said enough but would like to hear from you about your own experiences regarding these PQQs. Martin Luther King Jr. in his famous speech said, “I have a Dream” Well, although the stakes are far lower, my main concern is for business people who give of their best when filling out these PQQs – with NO return.
Let me dream a little…..
I dream of a day when we have a standard PQQ with additional extra questions where necessary for more complex projects.
I dream of a day when construction professionals will once again take the lead in procuring projects.
I dream of a day when we use common sense when it comes to procuring the services of both contractors and consultants. We must have a common sense approach although it was Voltaire who said, “Common sense is not so common!” We have arrived at this place in my view.
Maybe I am just a dreamer but I want to ask others who are more capable and qualified than I am to speak up because this issue seems to affect real people in business! Thank you.
Join the discussion 6 Comments
Thank you John for a great article on a very controversial subject!
During my time in construction I have spent many hours going through tenders and helping with tenders and often during the process we know full well it’s a massive waste of time. Plus, these tasks are often carried out well after ‘office hours’ and after a long days work, as I said, we know they’re a waste of time but we dare not ignore the process especially when work is scarce.
What is the answer? Whatever process is involved, there’s always a chance that the decision to who will eventually win the contract may have already been made.
One of the key points that you make about this ‘unjust’ system is the wasted ‘man hours’, people still need paying for their time whether a contract is won or not and how much does all this wasted time and effort cost the industry per annum?? Millions, it must cost absolute millions!!
How do other countries deal with the same problem? Maybe somewhere a little less traditional and a little keener on being efficient will provide the answer?? Scandinavia?? They’re fairly sensible as a rule?? What approach do they take?
Good article, forward thinking always takes a little bravery!!
All the best, Peter
I’m certain that your hesitancy and your frustrations will actually resonate with many people. Your blog is more than appropriately timed coming as it does on the day that the Government’s Construction Strategy has been published. This has the challenge to reduce costs by Public Sector Construction Costs by 20% by the end of this session of Parliament (I’ll be blogging on this shortly), and has procurement reform as one of the key areas to tackle the problem (see Action Point 11 for more detail)
I agree with John’s comments and have my own similar experiences of fruitless PQQ’s that didn’t result in any work. What is evident to me is that the PQQ process has a place and in the past decade it has undoubtedly made suppliers more aware of what clients want. (no bad thing) In doing so, many suppliers have established all the relevant documentation to ensure a PQQ can be passed; again no bad thing unless of course this documentation is just part of a tick box exercise (ISO9001 / IIP etc) rather than part of the business DNA.
We’ve even possibly reached saturation point where many companies are all able to pass the PQQ, so how do ‘buyers’ distinguish from the many compliant proposals. So a different approach is needed, set aside from the issues of councils requiring both Exor / Constructionline accreditation – simply moronic! (See Action Pt 3 Governance and Client Skills; not sure this will address effective buying, but maybe…)
I can provide more detail if need be, but I’d also like to highlight that one of my students is currently tackling this issue as part of his undergraduate dissertation. He refers to PAS91 and there is supposed a STANDARD PQQ coming out. I’ve been trying to find some more information on this, but can’t; so I’ll get back to you when I find more info’ – unless anyone else is aware?
Anyway, I appreciate your blog could deemed as potentially challenging the hand that feeds; however when you think about it, we need to survive on more than mere crumbs! So I applaud your blog and for being controversial, it’s needed.
Thank you both so very much for your response. It can be a lonely road sometimes trying to find the best way forward with this PQQ process. I think there are some good minds out there who will find an answer to this perplexing question.
Well, let me start by declaring an interest. I work for Constructionline.
What you are talking about is something we have been working at for 12 years, with a modicum of success. as you point out, construction procurement has changed considerably over that time, from tendering on a contract by contract basis, partnering, frameworks, e-procurement, EU procurement regulations and so on.
This latest attempt by government to get a handle on it is very positive.
The standard PQQ they speak of is PAS91. This is now mandatory for central government, and with Constructionline’s help, we hope to be able to make this cross over into local government. This is the biggest issue for driving policy through in my opinion. The transition from central to local government is where the biggest pain is felt, and the majority of the suppliers who are effected by the changes engage. it is therefore essential that any policy created, is somehow pushed beyond the boundary of central government.
Their main focus is in a few key areas.
Finding the opportunity – Contract Finder (again mandated for central government) will list all opportunities over £10K, and not just in Construction.
The issues listed previously, regarding excessive expressions of interest can be solved, or made infinitely easier with the agenda policy mentioned below.
Procurement – The ‘up-skilling’ of the client to make the procurement more efficient. Suggested approaches here include utilising the open procedure for all contracts under £100K, thus removing the PQQ altogether, and cost benchmarking to give the power back to the client, once a framework is let amongst many others.
This part is where highlighting how Constructionline can help the client is where we are focusing all our attention on these days.
There has been great work done by The North West Construction Hub, P21+ and more where the PQQ process has been effectively streamlined through using Constructionline, but still provides the client with the autonomy to shortlist those suppliers who score best at PQQ stage.
Finally, there is the transparency agenda. Again, Contract Finder is one part of this, helping suppliers find the opportunities in the first place, but this will be extended to include contract award data, and more specific contract data to enable SME’s to get more information, and make more informed decisions on what is actually going on out there in reality.
There is so much more that could be said on this topic, but for now i think it best to see what else comes out from government, and comment accordingly.
Feel free to get in touch if you would like to discuss any of the points above in more detail. @constructline on twitter.