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October 20, 2010

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Streamlined pre-qualification process to ease paperwork burden

Efforts to simplify the often arduous and time-consuming task of pre-qualifying to win construction contracts have culminated in the introduction of a new standard questionnaire, which, it is hoped, will bring savings in both time and cost to firms in the industry.

The new Publicly Available Specification (PAS 91) pre-qualification questionnaire, launched on18 October by the British Standards Institution, in partnership with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), should help streamline the tendering process significantly by reducing the need for suppliers to complete multiple sets of pre-qualification paperwork.

It features a set of core question modules that clients can ask to test potential suppliers’ business credentials to deliver construction services. It is intended that the questions will also be used by assessment-providers in their intermediary role between clients and suppliers.

Previously, businesses often had to answer a different set of questions – on areas including health and safety, environmental management, quality control, diversity, and finance – every time they bid for new contracts.

Some clients have difficulty in choosing which, if any, assessment-provider to use, given the proliferation of pre-qualification schemes in the industry. This can lead to clients asking all potential suppliers to complete entire pre-qualification questionnaire question sets, even though the supplier may have already demonstrated a satisfactory response to such questions either to the client, or to other parties.

Other clients opt to use a particular assessment provider, which means that any supplier wishing to tender for work from that client must pay to join the particular assessment scheme and fill in the specific pre-qualification questionnaire.

Estimates by the National Specialist Contractors Council put the annual cost to the industry and its clients of such repetitive assessment at £250m.

PAS 91 also consolidates the work of the Safety Schemes in Procurement Forum (SSIP), which was set up to promote mutual recognition between health and safety-specific pre-qualification schemes.

In this regard, clients may choose to accept a supplier who has signed up to the SSIP without requiring separate responses from the supplier to the general health and safety questions in PAS 91.

Doing so could also mean the client has more time to ask project-specific health and safety questions. PAS 91 also recommends that buyers accept a supplier’s UKAS-accredited third-party certification, such as OHSAS 18001 or ISO 14001, as meeting the requirements of the relevant question modules, without the need for those modules to be answered separately.

Head of safety for the Electrical Contractors’ Association, Paul Reeve, who helped draft the document, said that the core health and safety questions in PAS 91 would give clients a “degree of confidence” about suppliers’ credentials, and allow clients to advance through the tendering process more quickly. But he added: “No one should employ a scaffolder, an asbestos surveyor, or an electrical contractor to do high-hazard work without making further inquiries as to their capabilities.”

Commenting on the savings that could be achieved through such a leaner approach, Business minister Mark Prisk said: “Ensuring that public-sector procurement practices are not wasteful has always been important but the current economic climate brings that into even sharper focus. Over the next decade the new PAS 91 could save the construction industry billions of pounds.”

Bill Wright, managing director of W. Wright Electrical Ltd, who regularly fills out pre-qualification questionnaires, backed the new approach, saying: “What matters now is that clients and major contractors adopt it, or even, when they need more information, build upon this important document. This will help to minimise costly and unnecessary paperwork and place the focus where it should be – on assessing contractors’ capabilities.”

Reeve also believes the document could provide a framework for other industries. He said: “The intention of PAS 91 is not just about construction. If applied correctly, then it is a very good model for supply chains.”

PAS 91 is available as a free download on the BIS and BSI websites – and

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