This article was updated on 25 April 2023.
The Cabinet Office has published PPN 03/23 updating the SQ and accompanying statutory guidance. All contracting authorities must start using the new SQ by 1 June 2023.
When the PPN was first introduced on 9 March it set a date of 1 April 2023 for implementation. However, the timescale has since been changed to 1 June to allow for the time needed to incorporate the revised SQ into procurement processes and for the amendment of e-procurement tools.
Contracting authorities are able to use the new SQ immediately so those who have already taken steps to incorporate it do not need to take further action.
What is the SQ?
The SQ was devised in 2016 as a means of standardising the supplier selection process in above threshold procurement processes and introduced the concept of self-certification by suppliers to align with the European Single Procurement Document. PPN 08/2016 contained the standard form SQ which replaced the pre-qualification questionnaire in use at the time, together with statutory guidance on using the form. All contracting authorities had to start using the SQ for above threshold regulated procurements.
The SQ was divided into three parts:
The statutory guidance contained further information on use of the SQ including which parts were mandatory and the scope for deviating from standard form questions. It also provided more information on the entities who should provide supplier information (where other companies are being relied on or form part of a bidding group).
What has changed?
The Cabinet Office has taken on board feedback from public sector buyers and suppliers and has updated the statutory guidance to provide greater clarity on:
- the changes contracting authorities can make to the wording of questions. Questions can be rephrased to fit with e-procurement system styles provided they ask for the same information. The questions marked as mandatory for Part 1 and 2 must not be omitted. The supplier selection questions in Part 3 are for use where relevant and proportionate. Where they are used, they should not be deviated from but where there are deviations these must be reported to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- what is meant by “relying on another organisation” to meet the selection criteria. This covers a situation where the potential supplier is relying on the technical and professional ability and/or the economic and financial standing of another organisation to meet the selection criteria in Part 3. This could be another member of the supplier’s corporate group, a subcontractor or a bidding / joint venture partner.
- seeking information from suppliers and/or groups of suppliers. Parts 1 and 2 of the SQ must be completed by all organisations forming part of the potential supplier’s bidding group/consortium (or where another organisation is relied upon as referred to above). The authority can choose whether to accept a composite response to Part 3 or whether each entity needs to complete a separate Part 3. There is greater clarity and guidance on when authorities may wish to ask for evidence during the procurement process of when a supplier meets selection criteria.
- selection criteria. Guidance is provided on how authorities decide upon their own selection criteria and scoring system for assessing whether suppliers meet the selection criteria.
The broad structure of the template SQ itself remains unchanged. However there are some tweaks to the terminology to improve clarity and some aspects have been reformatted (for example, the exclusion grounds are now self-declarations rather than yes/no answers). Amendments have also been made to some of the selection questions to align with changes in policy. This includes:
- updates to the financial questions and checks;
- the introduction of questions on health and safety and data protection; and
- for central government contracts, there are updated questions aligning with recent procurement policy notes for example on healthy supply chain management and payment systems (PPN 08/21), carbon reduction (PPN 06/21) and modern slavery risk (PPN 02/23).
What do you need to do?
The updated SQ and guidance is available here.
Authorities need to begin using the new SQ guidance and questions as soon as possible and in any event by 1 April. This is likely to involve some work in ensuring that template documents and e-procurement tools incorporate the changes.
Suppliers need to be aware that changes have been made so that they can ensure that they are in a position to answer the questions being asked of them.
What happens next?
The Procurement Act is due to receive Royal Assent in the coming months and is expected to apply to procurements from early next year. It contains some changes to the mandatory and discretionary exclusion grounds set out in Part 2 of the SQ and to the test contracting authorities will use to consider these. There are also new consequences of exclusion from a procurement with the possibility of a debarment investigation being triggered and a supplier being placed on the debarment list.
The Bevan Brittan team have been analysing these changes and looking at the steps suppliers can take to prepare. You can read our article on the changes here.
 For works contracts, authorities should use the Common Assessment Standard or PAS91.