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Public sector PQQs look to the CAS

The Cabinet Office has just issued long-awaited procurement policy note (PPN) 03/23.  This revised PPN is particularly important because it allows public sector procurers to specify the Common Assessment Standard (CAS) for substantial public works.  As a result, the PPN greatly increases both the scope and type of buyer who will require suppliers to undergo CAS prequalification questions (PQQs) before tendering for construction or maintenance work.

PPN 03/23 finally adopts a recommendation in the 2021 report Constructing the Gold Standard — an independent review of public sector construction frameworks by the Centre of Construction Law at King’s College, London. The King’s College review highlighted how the CAS can prevent suppliers from having to answer numerous unexpected or redundant questions to meet public sector requirements. 

The revised PPN finally recognizes the CAS, which is based on an industry-supported, standard question set. CAS questions cover a range of buyer assurance enquiries in key areas such as financial, insurance, H,S&E (including carbon) and quality management, along with employment and social responsibility. Suppliers’ responses to the CAS are assessed by four recognized assessor bodies, including ECA industry partner CHAS.

Until now, the CAS - developed by Build UK and supported by many other industry stakeholders including ECA - has made most progress with a growing number of Tier 1 construction buyers. However, with the notable exception of the NHS, the revised PPN requires the use of the CAS or PAS 91 for substantial construction and other public works PQQs. In practice, its’ anticipated that public sector buyers will increasingly opt for the CAS as their PQ of choice.

What about PAS 91?

BSI’s PAS 91 was created back in 2010 as a stakeholder response to the unbridled proliferation of construction (and particularly health and safety) PQQs. It was a ground breaker and the bedrock of more recent efforts, particularly via the CAS, to tackle the problem. Even so, it’s public procurement days, though not quite over, look numbered. Generally, the CAS offers the public sector with a more useful way forward for PQQs, notably its relative ability to adjust to legislative change and other industry assurance requirements. For example, the CAS Review Group is positioning itself to draft practically useful PQQs about the forthcoming Building Safety regime - a task that would be beyond the PAS 91 revision cycle.

Help at hand

Public sector specification has been one of the most sought-after developments to support deployment of the CAS across construction and maintenance. The revised PPN underlines that the CAS isn’t just fit for prequalifying suppliers for new build projects, but also for those who operate across maintenance and other contractor services.

ECA Members looking to engage with the CAS have free access to the highly regarded ECA ‘CAS Manual’ (which provides useful information and supporting documents on a wide range of CAS questions) and ECA’s expert advisory teams.

Paul Reeve is ECA’s Director of CSR. He Chairs the Build UK CAS Review Group and is Vice-Chair of the PQ Cross Industry Body.

PPN 03/23 (replacing PPN 08/16) is at: