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CAS answers an expensive problem for industry

Many readers will be well aware of the numerous supplier pre-qualification schemes and questionnaires that operate throughout the construction supply chain.

The proliferation of these question sets over the years has created major problems for suppliers and, it turns out, buyers due to the unnecessary cost and effort of filling in multiple questionnaires. In addition, chasing assessment forms and certification badges has detracted from the real business of ensuring, and delivering, supply chain capability.

The construction industry has long sought to put an end this problem with a commonly recognised set of pre-qualification questions, and at the beginning of April Build UK and CECA, supported by ECA and others, issued a new pre-qualification ‘Common Assessment Standard’(CAS), paving the way for a much-needed solution.

The Common Assessment Standard is a step towards the aims of the Construction Leadership Council and the current Sector Deal, both of which highlight the need to remove the burden and inefficiencies of excessive pre-qualification. Indeed, it’s long been a goal in the industry to achieve “one assessment scheme, many providers” and the CAS moves us a lot closer to that goal.

The CAS builds on BSI’s widely-adopted ‘PAS 91’ construction pre-qualification document, and it allows enquires about topics that include company and financial matters, HS&E, quality, equality and CSR. As such, it covers the general questions that buyers reasonably need to ask suppliers through either a ‘desktop’ assessment or, if necessary, an assessment visit to the supplier’s offices. The CAS does not include project or task-specific enquires which, in any case, are best covered by further, bespoke dialogue between buyers and suppliers.

The new CAS won’t change the prequalification landscape overnight, but it offers the prospect of significant business benefits to clients, main contractors and suppliers alike. Initially, it will be delivered by three leading assessment schemes (CHAS, Constructionline and Achilles) but the eventual aim is that other bodies who meet the necessary assessor criteria will also be able to offer CAS assessments.

An important next stage, set for this summer, will be the introduction of ‘supplier data sharing’ between the CAS assessors, which should boost take-up by main contractors and help to give suppliers confidence in the CAS. While widespread adoption of the CAS by commercial and public sector buyers will be vital to success, the many thousands of suppliers across construction and maintenance - the paying customers for most pre-qualification questions - will need a CAS-based assessment regime they can get behind. Additionally, support from Government and the relevant enforcement agencies would help to consolidate the CAS throughout the industry.

Removing the burden of excessive prequalification would clearly be a major achievement. With widespread industry and stakeholder support, the new CAS may be able to put that prize within our grasp.