A standard PQQ for public procurement – the philosopher’s stone or the double helix*?

It sounds so simple and straightforward.  Why can't suppliers complete a single set of pre-qualification data and submit it as a once and once only document that would be used for all public procurement exercises - in the UK or indeed in any other country, state, region, municipality...

The benefits are obvious.  Cost and time savings for businesses, particularly important for smaller organisations, including charities and the like.  And similar cost and time savings for buyers who could access a strong potential supply base instantly.

However (there's always a 'however' with public procurement...), it is not as easy as it looks.  For instance, and this isn't meant to be exhaustive;

  • How is this database going to be set up and managed?  IF we take the EU, there are millions (literally) of potential suppliers who are potential suppliers to a Government or any substantial public body.
  • How will information be kept up to date? A firm's turnover last year may have been 5 million; but this year it is 20 million (or 0.5M).   If one of the selection factors in the PQQ is financial strength...this change could be the difference between success and failure.
  • Will information be verified in any way? Otherwise you can see the first big headline when some crook wins a deal on the basis of totally invented information.
  • How can data on the 'sytem' be brought into organisations own sourcing systems - or will it mean additional cost in integration or in effect ruining duplicate platforms?

And unless you take potentially hundreds of suppliers through to tender, the standard PQQ information won't be enough to select a sensible short list of suppliers for the vast majority of contracts (although having the standard data available will reduce the workload).  Further contract-specific questions will almost always be needed to get down to a sensible short-list.  I need to know quite specifically what each supplier can actually do.

But anyway, leaving that aside, how could the single PQQ be progressed?  Could the core PQQ data be held somewhere in the 'cloud'?  In Google docs or similar?  Can we make suppliers themselves responsible for the accuracy of the data, updating it etc, with penalties for those who mislead buyers?

Do platforms which have seen a lot of public sector tenders (in the UK, that might include Emptoris, BravoSolution , Due North or BiP) already have much of the information already somewhere in their databases?  Could organisations such as Dun & Bradstreet and Achilles play a role in verification of the data provided by suppliers themselves?

So achieving a single PQQ process is probably possible; but it won't be as easy as it sounds and it could turn out to be expensive if the wrong options are chosen.

But there is a even more fundamental dilemma for procurement people.  The more you open up contracts and increase the number of firms bidding, the greater the procurement workload.  When a three-person procurement Department (down from 5 because of the cuts) in a council or police force find they have 487 print suppliers on the PQQ database who want to win their contract... what can they do?  I foresee a big rise in the use of  'lotteries' to help select short-lists which could be a potential disaster in terms of value for money and the perception of the supply community.

One obvious solution is for buyers to use pre-arranged contracts or frameworks.  But as we've said before, frameworks let without commitment don't offer good value in many cases.  Also, if organisations are driven to use large, centrally negotiated contracts, that might (taking the UK as an example) satisfy Francis Maude and Philip  Green's 'centralising procurement' agenda, but it certainly won't assist the SMEs that this whole PQQ initiative is designed to help!

I don't have easy answers to that last issue.  It is a real irony;  the easier we make access to public sector contracts, the more we might drive buyers towards centralisation and big suppliers.  I'd love to hear  from anyone, on or off the record, who has a view on how to reconcile that!  There must be an answer here, but I don't know what it is...

* That was a pretty obtuse title..what I meant was this.  Is a standard PQQ something that takes a lot of effort to discover but is hugely important? Or is it something that will never be found / doesn't exist!  OK, it's  a pretty useless analogy!

Voices (3)

  1. Jonathan Betts:

    A little late on this one but a biochemist has to respond to a post with double helix in the title!

    From a supplier’s perspective submitting the same PQQ data repetitively in differing formats and with various nuances is frustrating but largely accepted as a cost of doing business.

    As your previous correspondent highlights another concern is the proliferation of PQQ solutions claiming to be the national database (often carrying associated subscription charges).

    Centralised systems exist in a patchy way such as Sid4Health in the UK NHS albeit the procuring authority overlays this with their own pre-qualification questions.

    Whilst a single database may not be desirable/achievable for the reasons you highlight a standardised questionnaire format used by all public bodies would make a good starting point.

    From a database point of view, something that held the core business data on a centralised basis (similar to that held by credit agencies for example) should be achievable.

    And now, as it’s the weekend, “Make mine a double, Felix”.

  2. Flog:

    There must be some way of achieving this – at the end of the day, a significant number of elements are fairly standard information eg do you have an equality policy or do you have your health and safety accreditations? The challenge for automated systems is that the correct options should be Yes, No and Not Applicable eg I’m a one person business so I do not (legally) need an equality statement or I’m a micro business with 3 employees – I don’t (legally) need H&S accreditations. The standard PQQ approach can collect this information, however, getting it to handle the Yes, No, Not Applicable would be the challenge as the respondent would need to explain why, say, No or Not Applicable was the ‘correct’ answer for their situation and the buyer make an assessment on inclusion or exclusion. Also, as we all know, when evaluating submissions how do you failry compare and mark a micro-business against a mega one?

    Having attempted on occasions to wade through several of the on-line etendering products (Bravo and Vertical Net spring to mind). What concerns me is that I’m a procurement practitioner and understand why we’re being asked ‘what we had for breakfast this morning?’ and ‘what time we went to bed last night?’ However, on each occasion – I’ve packed it in as I couldn’t be bothered clicking through multiple screens and, sometimes, coming up against the Yes/No option and with neither being applicable, and there being no Not applicable option or space to add a comment. If, eg, I respond yes, it could be construed that I’ve not been truthful (misrepresentation and ground for exclusion); if I respond no, its truthful but I’m excluded because I’ve told the truth that I don’t have something that’s not relevant to or legally required for my business!

    In terms of keeping information up to date – that can be achieved by the suppliers prompted by the system – I do receive emails from various systems asking me to re-confirm and/or update my details – it is afterall an automated process. Validation of the ‘numbers’ is another matter. When putting in financial figures it should be possible to write in some ‘validation formulae’ to prompt an ‘are you sure?’ question eg a variation in turnover of +/- 25% and space to insert a short explanation – this would require, of course, that the buyer does read the text and the supplier isn’t automatically excluded for not ticking Yes. If a supplier is subsequently identified as having not been truthful – then this could be flagged up as misrepresentation and, under the EU rules be a reason to be excluded from the database (and future opprtunities).

    I’d really like to see a standard approach across all of the UK (Europe??) public sectors, a properly funded central (probably not much hope of that happening now) facility that is free to both suppliers and buyers. It should be able to
    (a) provide a degree of automated evaluation; with the buyer having to personalise the parameters for the particular requirement (ie no one size fits all approach)
    (b) provide a secure depository for my standard information that I can access and simply, when an opportunity arises, make visible to the buyer without having to re-write or cut and paste into a non-user friendly format
    (c) have the facility for the buyer to ask the ‘been there, got the tee-shirt’ questions that are specific to the requirement – and they will be evaluated using a stated methodology – whether this would be a system-wide structure or user-specific I’m not sure

    Perhaps, we need to move to banding tender opportunities with an element of mega opportunitites targetted to the big players and small ones to the micro and SMEs??

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