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1 November 2011 | Adam Leach
Overly complex and resource-intensive pre-qualification
questionnaires (PQQs) are the biggest barrier for small- and medium-sized
organisations (SMEs) looking to win public sector contracts.
That is the finding from the latest results of the Cabinet
Office’s Mystery Shopper Scheme. Publishedtoday, other
complaints concerned disqualification on financial grounds and an award notice
that revealed competitive pricing data. In total, the Cabinet Office received
14 complaints over the past three months, down from 23 in the previous period.
Of the 14 complaints lodged, 12 resulted in immediate or planned changes.
Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, said:“Today’s
publication of Mystery Shopper results shows how effective government action
can level the playing field for SMEs. This is yet another lever, in addition to
our actions to scrap unnecessary PQQs and publish all contracts on contracts
finder. We will continue to publish these cases regularly so that issues are
The PQQ complaints, of which there were five,
included one against The University Catering Organisation (TUCO) from a coffee
roasting business that claimed the PQQ was too lengthy and required resources
they couldn’t assign to it. The company also complained some requirements of
the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) were too costly.
Following the complaint and intervention by the Cabinet Office, TUCO agreed to
review and shorten its PQQ in line with the Cabinet Office template and
directed the supplier to alternatives to the ISO.
In September, architect Willie Watt started an appeal on the ePetition website, calling for simpler PQQs. He told SM
it was commonplace to see PQQs containing more than 100 questions, which made it hard for the client to
differentiate between bidders and more difficult for suppliers to differentiate
themselves from competitors.
Two recent grievances include:
award notice published by Sunderland City Council provided the competitors of a
small business enough detail to work out its pricing structure. The council
agreed to consider presenting information in a different format but pointed out
that increased transparency was a government priority.
· An SME
that worked with The Department for International Development and its
predecessors for 30 years was not shortlisted after the PQQ format was changed
and received no explanation or feedback when requested. The Mystery Shopper
team brokered a meeting between the department and the SME and it is now
participating in the department’s consultation on improving its procurement
processes for SMEs.