English councils moving towards standardising pre-qualification process

Specialist Engineering Contractors Group, SEC, Rudi Klein

Local authorities in England have made significant progress in standardising the pre-qualification process for projects, helping to reduce the £1 billion a year it costs firms to needlessly fill in questionnaires and duplicate this exercise many times over. According to a survey by the Specialist Engineering Contractors’ (SEC) Group, 27% of local authorities are now using PAS 91 (the standard pre-qualification questionnaire) exclusively. Furthermore, over 36% are using the standard questionnaire published by the Crown Commercial Service.

SEC Group represents the largest sector in UK construction, by value.

There was no standard approach to assessing firms’ technical capabilities. Only 6% of authorities valued trade-association membership. 18% relied on references. 20% of councils relied on information about previous experience, and 19% simply relied on the responses to their questionnaires, which may not have addressed technical capabilities in any detail or at all.

The take-up of project bank accounts, where payments are ring-fenced in one pot and discharged simultaneously to the supply chain, by councils remains slow, but their use is increasing, with 14 councils considering using them. The lack of take-up is generally due to lack of information about project bank accounts rather than resistance to using them.

Other findings were that only 11% of councils insisted that tier 1 contractors use standard questionnaires down the supply chain and that almost 40% of councils require tier 1 contractors to use standard sub-contracts.

Of the two competing standard contracts (the New Engineering Contract [NEC] forms and the Joint Contracts Tribunal [JCT} forms), local authorities preferred the NEC for large capital works, with the JCT tending to be used for small-value works.

Prof. Rudi Klein, CEO of SEC Group, said, ‘I take heart from the fact that more and more councils are now using standard pre-qualification questionnaires. I hope this trend continues across the UK. Firms are wasting over £1 billion a year needlessly on filling in questionnaires and duplicating this exercise many times over.’

SEC Group is urging the Government to make the use of PAS 91 a regulatory requirement under the Public Contracts Regulations 2015.

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