The Curse of the Pre-Qualification Questionnaire

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Our research has shown widespread criticism of Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) processes from those who are on the receiving end of voluminous documents issued by the public sector.

PQQ’s are, of course, issued by the private sector but, typically, are less demanding in the detail. Too many public sector PQQ processes amount to little more than a ‘tick box’ exercise, despite elaborate scoring mechanisms designed to demonstrate robustness.

The Curse of the Pre-Qualification Questionnaire

Our critique here is intended to probe efficiency, relevance and enhance the value of some PQQ processes.

The PQQ process has a straightforward intent, namely to shortlist those organisations who will be invited to tender. Hence, by definition, some organisations will FAIL to proceed, despite having spent hours genuinely attempting to answer questions, including those of an obtuse nature. It would be a huge step forward if those who design PQQ’s could agree that all the information sought actually has a purpose. Does it have a purpose in real life?

In order to make this subject live we are selecting facets of a PQQ issued by a large UK Central Government Department.

Company Registration Number. Why is this required?

Would it be too cynical to believe that no-one will check the registration with Companies House to ascertain if the number is valid? Or, is it the case that a tick box can be completed? What do you think?

VAT registration number. Why is this required?

Our cynicism continues. Is the evaluator now going to check with HM Revenue & Customs that the company is registered for VAT and that the number is genuine? By the way, if later it is shown that they ‘made up’ the VAT number and are charging 20% (the current VAT rate) then serious matters prevail. Is the VAT number another tick box?

Health & Safety. This section of the PQQ has seven questions – all to be answered YES or NO.

The introduction begins

‘In order to make the processes simpler, you are asked not to provide supporting documents for questions in Section _. Please note that the Authority will ask to see these documents should you pass through to the Invitation to Tender stage.’

What are the implications of this statement?  What does ‘make the process simpler’ actually mean? Perhaps it relieves the evaluation  team from reading documents! One of the questions is ‘Does your organisation have a risk assessment process?’ This is a very important matter and if the YES box is ticked, where, precisely, has that got anyone? Incidentally, the advice to evaluators actually says. ‘Questions 1-6 must be answered YES.’ It doesn’t say what happens if a question is answered NO.

Financial Information. Question 1 in this section requires the provision of a

‘statement of accounts or extracts there from (sic) relating to your business provided that the publication of the statement is required under the law of the State in which you are established.’

There is, in consequence, a million dollar question. What happens to the information provided, given the parlous financial position of many organisations. It is possible that the financial statements provided are at least 10 months out of date. Rarely does the public sector ask for an interim set of accounts to bring the information more up to date. We suggest that the evaluation of finances at the PQQ phase is often flawed.

Assuming you are still with us and are now questioning the PQQ process you may ask:

What can we learn from the law and a classic case?

We recommend that you start with AMARYLLIS LIMITED and HM TREASURY (sued as OGCbuyingsolutions) [2009] EWHC 1666(TCC). This case relates to a claim for circa £11m. At para. 9. it reads:

“This is a claim based on alleged breaches of Regulation 4(3) of the Public Contracts Regulations 2006. The particular procurement process involved the supply and installation of furniture for a variety of Government departments.

The claimant maintains that the Defendant failed to deal with its first stage tender (referred to below as the PQQ, the pre-qualification questionnaire) in an equal, transparent, and non-discriminatory way.

There are four essential strands to this argument.

First, the Claimant complains about the decision to allocate no marks at all to Section F of the PQQ, dealing with previous experience and comparable contracts, particularly in circumstances where the PQQ indicated that all Sections would be marked. This is an area where the Claimant believes that it would have scored highly.

Secondly, the Claimant complains that the Defendant evaluated the PQQ responses without informing the tenderers of the relative importance it ascribed to each question/topic.

Thirdly, there are complaints about the Department’s evaluation of the environmental management sections of the PQQ,

Finally, the Claimant complains that it was awarded zero marks for Section A of the PQQ, on the sole basis that it was a supplier of furniture rather than the manufacturer of the furniture itself.

The essential complaint here is that the Defendant had an unstated – and unfair – preference for manufacturers rather than suppliers.

We commend this classic case for reading and study. It is an eye opener. To our public sector colleagues we say Caveat Emptor!

The take-away: Let us now return to the substantive point of this briefing note.

  • Who scrutinises your PQQ process?
  • Who conducts due diligence on the responses to ascertain their ‘quality’ and accuracy?
  • Do we have a PQQ process that has descended into a mechanistic tick box mentality?

A PQQ process should be designed to give respondents an equitable opportunity to warrant receiving an invitation to tender.

That is what must be achieved.  Isn’t it?


Interest in more insight on public sector procurement?  Go to When will the new procurement directives be applied to the UK?


About Brian Farrington 
Brian Farrington is one of the world’s longest established procurement and supply chain consultancy and executive training specialists. 33 of the current FTSE100 have retained our services, as well as leading government organisations in the UK, North America, southern Africa and Asia. Established in 1978, we have proven expertise and experience in procurement, risk and negotiation.

Brian Farrington solutions and services are formed through consultancy, training & development and coaching – all underpinned by proprietary technology. Our four core areas of procurement capability are:

•Strategic review and commercial governance – including tendering collateral

•Performance delivery and transition

•Major project support including contract negotiations

•Learning & development in support of organisational aims.

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