The Standard Selection Questionnaire (“SSQ”) is an integral part of any procurement under the Public Contracts Regulations 2015.  It will remain so under the amended procurement rules being ushered through Parliament as we speak  (albeit capable of a slightly more flexible deployment).

PPN 03/23 implements changes to the SSQ and associated guidance with effect from 1 April 2023.  This is a short time for contracting authorities and their e-procurement solution providers to get to grips with the changes.  Some changes are obvious; others are a little more subtle.

Whilst the text looks quite different to the SSQ provided under PPN 08/16 (which it replaces), this is in large part because the front end merges what used to be Annex A (Guidance) and Annex D (FAQ) into a single cohesive explanation of how to use the SSQ. This seems sensible. However, there are also changes (explained below).

More generally, there is an important upgrade to Section 3 to draw in the additional requirements imposed by other PPNs over the past few months and years.

The article examines the changes in greater detail.

Changes contracting authorities can make to the wording of questions

Although paragraph 7 of the new SSQ indicates that it provides clarity on changes contracting authorities can make to the wording of questions, in fact the approach appears to be identical to the previous SSQ save that deviations should now be reported to, rather than Mystery Shopper.

Therefore in summary, it remains the case that:

  • No changes or additions should be made to Parts 1 & 2.
  • The expectation is that contracting authorities should not deviate from Part 3 (and that any deviations should be reported), but contracting authorities can both:
    • reword/rephrase the questions to fit the style and format of their e-procurement system; and
    • add project specific questions.

Meaning of “relying on another organisation” to meet the selection criteria

The new SSQ provides slightly greater clarity on when an organisation is being “relied on” (and therefore must complete the Part 1 & 2 self-declarations):

an organisation is relied on for the purposes of the standard selection questions if the potential supplier is relying on the technical and professional ability and/or the economic and financial standing of the organisation to meet the selection criteria in part 3.”

This is a valuable clarification.  If a supplier does not itself meet minimum financial standing requirements, contracting authorities remain permitted to allow the supplier to meet the test by relying on the financial standing of a group or parent company or fellow consortium member if they are willing to provide appropriate security or support, for example in the form of a parent company guarantee.  Read with the new wording above, this suggests that since the supplier is relying on them to meet the financial standing test, they too should be completing the Part 1 and 2 self-declarations.

Seeking information from groups of suppliers: who should respond to the SQ

A common area of complexity when completing the SSQ is which entities within a group of bidders must complete each part of the SSQ. The guidance here remains familiar but with a notable relaxation.

It remains the case that each member of the consortium should complete their own Part 1 and Part 2 because only they can declare whether they have breached the exclusion grounds or not.  However, the old FAQ then provided simply: “Part 3 (selection criteria) however is completed by the lead supplier for the consortium as a group. It is the combined capacity and capability of the group that is required to meet the selection questions

The new SSQ provides greater flexibility [emphasis added]:

Para 55:  All members of the group/consortium may be required to provide the information in part 3 of the selection questions, as part of a single composite response (unless the question specifically directs otherwise). Where this is the case, the group/consortium lead member would normally complete all of the questions in part 3 on behalf of the group/consortium and/or any subcontractors, referring to the economic and financial standing and/or technical and professional ability of group/consortium members and/or any subcontractors where appropriate.

Para 56:  Alternatively, you may choose to ask all members of a group/consortium or subcontractors relied on to meet the selection criteria to complete their own section of part 3, as well as part 1 and part 2, so selection checks can be undertaken on them. You must make it clear whether you require each member of the group/consortium and each subcontractor to meet the selection criteria or whether and how their scores will be weighted and combined. This should be clearly explained in the procurement documents

Amendments to financial questions and checks

The new SSQ includes a little more guidance on how to calibrate Part 3 Economic and Financial Standard (EFS) requirements, including:

  1. The requirement for central government to use the Contract Tiering Tool to classify the contract (gold / silver / bronze) by assessing three criteria: value, complexity and level of risk;
  2. Using The Sourcing Playbook (and within that, the Financial Viability and Risk Assessment Tool).

When to include the new questions added to Part 3

The new SSQ pulls together the links to the additional PPNs which have incrementally added to the SQ (08/21, 11/16, 06/21, 14/15 and 02/23).

The latest of these is PPN 02/23 which last month added additional SQ steps in respect of Modern Slavery Act compliance which are advisable or mandatory. For a summary of PPN02/23, including a flowchart of what has changed, see:  Procurement Policy Note PPN 02/23 – Modern Slavery – What you need to do to comply.

When to ask for evidence in support of self-declarations

The new SSQ clarifies when it is necessary to ask for evidence in support of a self-declaration:

Para 12: “[Y]ou can ask for evidence from any potential supplier at an earlier stage if it is needed to ensure proper conduct of the procedure. This is likely to be appropriate:

  • for economic and financial standing where a full assessment can only be undertaken where evidence is provided;
  • in the competitive dialogue procedure and competitive procedure with negotiation.  The burden of taking a potential supplier through dialogue/negotiation only to reject them at the final stage (once evidence is provided) may be disproportionate;
  • in the open procedure, where timescales are necessarily short and it is appropriate to review evidence concerning exclusion and selection in parallel with tender evaluation.”

Para 52: “In a two-stage procedure, it might be necessary to ask for supporting documentary evidence in relation to exclusions and the selection criteria before the award stage. When considering an application to join a Dynamic Purchasing System the timeframes involved may mean that you will wish to see evidence along with the request to join. You should only ask for evidence that is proportionate and relevant to the procurement. The approach should be clearly set out in the procurement documents.

Other changes

The new SSQ also adds a little more detail on evidence of technical and professional ability (past performance).

In addition, those used to procuring works contracts (including the procurement of certain mixed contracts) will be now be familiar with using PAS91 in place of the SSQ for the pre-qualification of bidders.  The new SSQ provides an alternative option of using the Common Assessment Standard (Build UK).

However, the guidance also clarifies that CAS does not apply to the procurement of health care services for the purposes of the NHS within the meaning and scope of the National Health Service (Procurement, Patient Choice and Competition) (No. 2) Regulations 2013.

How can Burges Salmon help?

We are a Band 1 Ranked Procurement Team helping contracting authorities and bidders to navigate the latest changes to procurement law and understand what it means for their current and future procurements.  Our specialist team advise on the full spectrum of contentious and non-contentious procurement issues.