Look out – a (procurement) SQuID is loose in Wales!

One little-considered advantage of devolution in the UK has been to allow Wales and Scotland to become more independent in their public procurement activity.  And that has led to these devolved countries taking the lead and showing the way for English public procurement in some areas.

Of course, they have some built in advantages. Value Wales, who have the task of driving public sector procurement performance in Wales, told me some time ago that, “we can get about 12 people in a room who represent 95% of Welsh public procurement”. The biggest councils, a handful of hospitals and universities and a couple of large agencies (such as the DVLA) and you pretty much have all the key stakeholders together. You need a very big room to do that for English public procurement.

One area of interest for Wales is their approach to supplier registration and pre-qualification. Whitehall*has made some progress, but there is no joining up between the different sectors (central government, local authorities, health etc), while Wales are pursuing a common approach across all their sectors – as are Scotland, I understand.

The Welsh system is amusingly called SQuID – Supplier Qualification Information Database.  It is “a Welsh Assembly Government initiative to make the qualification process across Wales more efficient for the public sector and industry”.  The objectives of SQuID are :

  • Standardise as far as possible the pre-qualification process for suppliers to the Welsh public sector, whilst allowing buyers to tailor the questions to meet the specific requirements of the procurement.
  • Increase the transparency of the selection process and how responses will be evaluated – so that suppliers are able to work out easily whether or not they wish to bid for a particular opportunity, how to optimise their proposal and how to present it in an effective way.
  • Increase the efficiency for both suppliers and buyers, by allowing standard questions and answers to be stored for future use, by keeping the number of questions to a minimum, and also by encouraging buyers to only seek information from suppliers if they can be clear about exactly how the information will be used.

SQuID has a number of elements. The most advanced is an extensive and carefully chosen set of standard PQQ questions for buyers to use, with very good guidance both for buyers and for bidders (in terms of how their answers will be scored).  Buyers can choose the standard questions they want for their procurement, tailor the guidance for bidders and finally add any requirement-specific questions needed – more support around this is provided.  It’s in what we might call ‘beta testing’ phase at the moment.

For bidders, the aim is for the SQuID database to store their responses to standard questions. They can re-use previous answers for future procurements, or of course modify them if they wish.  This is a bit of a holy grail for public procurement – it is also a stated objective in England, but hasn’t yet been achieved. (“For all procurements in common commodities we will ensure systems allow suppliers to tell us their prequalification data once – and not submit the same data time and time again” - Cabinet Office announcement, Feb 2011).

The other element of SQuID that is admirable is the strong and clear emphasis on a risk based approach to supplier qualification and selection. Too often, public procurers don’t think about this properly. As one example in the SQuID material points out, if your provider of window cleaning services goes bust, you can find another one quickly and easily. So why include a load of questions about financial performance and stability in the PQQ?

Credit to the team behind SQuID – particularly Sue Hurrell of Value Wales (a very smart procurement person, and a big loss to OGC when she “emigrated”):  and Peter Marshall of Commerce Decisions, who provide the AWARD tool that forms part of the BravoSolution driven e-Procurement suite used in Wales.  And hopefully the Government Procurement team in Cabinet Office are aware of what Wales are up to and are learning what they can from activity in the Principality, and vice versa of course.

There’s more good stuff going on over the Severn Bridge -  we’ll have another post  shortly...

* Whitehall is talking about reducing the need for PQQs via more use of “open” tenders,  but even that won’t eliminate the need for what we might call supplier enablement / registration. So the issue of suppliers having to submit data on multiple occasions is still relevant.  

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