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Common Standard sets out to revolutionize PQQs

Many electrical and other engineering services businesses will have heard of the Common Assessment Standard (CAS) - the general, industry-agreed question set developed by Build UK and others (including ECA). 

The CAS enables buyers to enquire about a supplier’s business, along with other important issues such as H,S&E, quality, equality and CSR through a ‘desktop’ assessment or if necessary, a site assessment at the supplier’s offices. 

Some of the largest main construction contractors now specify the Standard

Significant developments with the Common Assessment Standard have included the first assessors recognised to certify suppliers against the Standard (Achilles, CHAS and Constructionline) and its early specification by the main contractors delivering HS2.  

But the CAS has just achieved the vitally important goal of ‘supplier data sharing’ between the three Recognised Assessment Bodies, greatly boosting the scope for buyer specification. Data sharing allows buyers to obtain key prequalification data about prospective suppliers from any Recognised Assessment Body, regardless of which one carries out the supplier’s assessment. 

As a result, some of the largest main construction contractors (such as Balfour Beatty, Mace and Costain) – along with the Crown Commercial Service –  now specify the Standard, and more buyers are expected to back the Standard in the months ahead.

The proliferation of desktop prequalification questions (PQQs) has long created headaches for suppliers

Data sharing also means buyers don’t need to specify a given assessor, so that suppliers have more commercial choice (many for the first time) about who carries out their assessment.  In time, other assessors who meet the Build UK Recognition criteria may also be able to offer CAS assessments, giving the industry “one Standard, many providers”. 

The proliferation of desktop prequalification questions (PQQs) has long created headaches for suppliers and, it turns out, buyers due to the unnecessary cost and effort of filling in multiple PQQs.  

In addition, chasing certification badges detracts from the real business of ensuring, and delivering, supply chain capability and reducing risk. Following successful assessment to the Common Assessment Standard, project or task-specific issues can be more effectively covered with further, bespoke dialogue between buyers and their prequalified suppliers. 

With the advent of data sharing, the main roadblocks to simplifying prequalification seem to have been cleared

How suppliers - PQQ’s paying customers - react to the Common Assessment Standard will of course be influenced by how much a CAS assessment costs, and how challenging some find achieving CAS certification. To help with CAS assessment, ECA’s CSR team provides comprehensive professional advice and guidance to its Members on how to engage successfully with the various CAS questions. 

However, the much bigger question is how much additional, expensive and time-consuming prequalification activity suppliers can do away with once they have achieved the Standard, and when. 

To be truly successful the CAS needs widespread buyer specification and while the growing list of specifying buyers is impressive, wholesale buyer adoption may still take time as other buyers adjust their (sometimes embedded) prequalification arrangements. 

Even so, with the advent of data sharing, the main roadblocks to simplifying prequalification seem to have been cleared. Removing excessive prequalification will be a major prize for an industry that, in the last 12 months, has shown it can work together to address significant challenges. 

The Construction Leadership Council recognises the burden of inefficient and excessive pre-qualification. It supports the Common Assessment Standard, which seems well placed to deliver the solution the industry has been looking for since the earliest days of construction prequalification. 

Paul Reeve is Director of CSR at engineering services body ECA, and Vice Chair of the Build UK industry group developing the Common Assessment Standard.

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