The Standard Selection Questionnaire (SQ) is used to collect information to help decide which suppliers should be selected to participate in a tender exercise above EU thresholds.
From 26 February 2015 a pre-qualification stage is no longer permissible in procurements between £25,000 and £181,302.
A useful diagram to show when a pre qualification stage can and cannot be used is provided by Bevan Brittan in their Bite Sized Procurement update 18.
A "pre-qualification stage" means a stage in the procurement process during which the contracting authority assesses “the suitability of candidates to perform a contract for the purpose of reducing the number of candidates to a smaller number who are to proceed to a later stage in the process”.
However in contracts between £25,000 and £181,302, contracting authorities may ask ‘suitability assessment questions’ relating to a potential supplier provided that the questions are relevant to the subject matter of the procurement and proportionate. Contracting authorities may only use the information and evidence requested in suitability assessment questions to establish whether candidates meet requirements or minimum standards of suitability, capability, legal status or financial standing. All candidates meeting the requirements and minimum standards must be invited to tender. This means that it is not possible to draw up a shortlist of the best qualified candidates from amongst those who meet the minimum standards. More information on suitability assessment questions can be found in Crown Commercial Services Lord Young Reform Frequently Asked Questions.
The SQ for procurements above the EU threshold should address the grounds for exclusion and the selection criteria detailed in the EU procurement legislation (which is exhaustive). The information is aimed at determining the suitability, capability and financial stability of a supplier to be able to provide the goods or services required to meet your needs. Some criteria, for example involvement in criminal activity, non-payment of taxes etc, will result in the automatic exclusion of an applicant, while others, when scored and weighted, will be used to rank the applicants in order of their ability to meet your published requirements.
Within a SQ there are generally two types of questions:
- Those designed to collect background information such as the applicant’s name, contact details, VAT registration number etc. These questions collect essential information but do not, normally, form part of the overall assessment process i.e. they are not scored.
- Those that are designed to collect the information necessary to make a judgement on the ability of the applicant to meet your needs i.e. to assess its suitability, technical capability and financial stability. These questions are weighted and scored and an overall weighted score calculated for each applicant. The final weighted scores are then used to rank the applicants in order and inform the selection process of which applicants will be invited to submit tenders.
It is important that any additional questions added to the mandatory standard questions are relevant to the requirement and that the responses received can be assessed in a fair manner. Some questions will be very important, for example, those relating to the relevant experience and this will be reflected in the weightings given. If you are asking for copies of procedural manuals, you need to consider how you will demonstrate how you have assessed them should the applicant be unhappy with the outcome of their assessment if they do not get through to the next stage and invited to submit tenders.
From 26 February 2015 for procurements above EU thresholds, contracting authorities should have regard to the statutory guidance concerning changes to how procurers should select suitable suppliers and administer the Standard Questionnaire. This guidance contains a standardised set of questions for use in procurements where the EU rules apply. Not all the questions in the SQ or the additional modules may be required for every procurement, only those which are relevant and proportionate to the contract should be used (the mandatory and discretionary exclusion questions should always be included).
Contracting authorities should select from the bank of core and additional module questions contained in the SQ and not deviate from the wording of these questions. There will be a limited number of circumstances where an authority may need to deviate from the wording in these questions; however authorities will need to be able to justify the reasons for any variation and from 1 September 2015 report these to the Cabinet Office.
Contracting authorities are permitted to ask further project specific questions relating to the supplier’s technical and professional ability as part of selection. Any questions asked must be relevant and proportionate to the requirement. A list of possible topics covering technical and professional ability is set out in Regulation 60 (9) (b) – (k).
Full details including scoring for each questions, weightings, and any pass mark or minimum threshold for selection must be made known to suppliers at the same time that the SQ is issued.
A copy of the Standardised Questionnaire