Complex PQQs remain SMEs' top complaint

1 November 2011

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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 transparent.”

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:

·      An 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.


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