Breaking down barriers for SMEs in construction

Neil Thompson is a director at ConstructionlineMore than 240,000 construction services suppliers operate in the UK according to the Office for National Statistics, the vast majority of which can be classified as SMEs.

Given their prominent role in the market, small suppliers have a huge role to play in the continued health of the sector and the wider economy. It’s vital, then, they are given fair and open access to construction projects.

Overly-bureaucratic and cumbersome procurement processes can be a major barrier to SMEs winning work, but it is something that is being broken down through increasing use of PAS 91:2013, a free, standardised pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ).

Developed in partnership between government and industry and sponsored by BIS, PAS 91:2013 is a template that sets out the content, format, and use of questions for the first stage assessment of contractors. It was relaunched last year to simplify pre-qualification in construction tendering and reduce the red tape for contractors and their clients.

The current version includes an improved core question set that asks suppliers to provide only the necessary information required for pre-qualification. It also gives clients the option to include additional sections if applicable, such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), or even adding their own questions if needed.

There are huge benefits for both parties in use of PAS 91. When it’s estimated that it can cost an average organisation up to £100,000 a year just to assess, chase and maintain supplier details – rising again for bigger firms – PAS 91 allows buyers to spend less time and money on routine assessment, while being confident that their supply chain holds suitable skills and qualifications.

For small suppliers, following a template rather than having to duplicate their efforts every time they submit a new application significantly limits the pressure on their resources and reduces costs. Easing the procurement process will result in more, relevant suppliers of all sizes applying for work – creating added value for buyers by opening up a wider talent pool.

We understood that for the standard to succeed this time round, there needed to be broad understanding of what the current version involves. With partners in the steering group, Constructionline set up the PAS 91 portal as a resource hub that would educate the industry and highlight the best practice of buyers who have adopted PAS 91.

With the support of the industry, this time round we have seen growing popularity of PAS 91 amongst major construction buyers. Earlier this year, some the UK’s largest contractors pledged to mandate PAS 91, pre-qualification register Constructionline, and minimum health & safety assessment standard, Safety Schemes in Procurement (SSIP). Vinci, Kier, Bouygues UK, Lend Lease and Seddon, were among the major names that signed up to our advisory group.

And it’s not only among major contractors where we’re seeing this trend. There’s real support for the updated PAS 91 from a diverse range of buying communities, from local authorities and universities, to industry bodies including the Federation of Master Builders and the National Federation of Builders.

Neil Thompson is a director at Constructionline

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