A Guide to Pre-Qualification Questionnaires for Subcontractors

13th January 2021

Understanding pre-qualification questionnaires for subcontractors

[Last modified; July 2021]

Pre-qualification questionnaires for subcontractors will be issued if the contract allows for subcontracting. Especially with larger projects, buyers will permit the main supplier to recruit smaller businesses for support. This is different from a framework as the main contractor themselves are in charge of enlisting the subcontractors.

In this blog, we highlight how pre-qualification questionnaires for subcontractors work, depending on which side of the table you’re sitting.

Subcontracting work on your contract 

Let’s start by looking at the PQQ process for the supplier who will be the main contractor. A business will be eligible to respond to this size of tender if meet certain criteria. These conditions could include:

  • Meeting a financial threshold

With larger contracts, buyers will often require that participating suppliers meet their financial threshold. This could be referred to as your economic and financial standing. You can predict whether or not you meet the threshold. As a general rule, you probably won’t be eligible for contracts with a value of more than half your turnover.

  • Demonstrating relevant experience

You wouldn’t apply for a job that you don’t have any experience in. Tendering for contracts is the same. Buyers want to see how you have delivered similar contracts and overcame challenges. Typically, most buyers will ask to see at least three recent, relevant contract examples when writing bids. Therefore, preparing case studies in advance is recommended.

Case studies should:

  • Be relevant
  • Demonstrate how you mobilised and delivered the contract
  • Detail your experience of a project of a similar scale and scope
  • Note whether you completed the contract on time and within budget
  • Include challenges you encountered and overcame, demonstrating flexibility and problem-solving skills.

Depending on the word count, you could include positive testimonials from previous satisfied clients. Some buyers may require concrete evidence of past works. These could include before, during and after photos of work that you have carried out on past contracts. It’s best to keep documentation while carrying out work for clients. These can help you save time when it comes to your tender response. They can help you stand out from your competitors, giving the contractor confidence in your experience.

  • Providing evidence of accreditations and qualifications

In order to win a large contract with subcontracting opportunities, it’s likely that buyers will require relevant qualifications and accreditations. When it comes to tendering for work, you’re essentially selling your services. Treat this like any other sales pitch and fill it with facts and evidence that distinguishes you from the rest.

Qualifications and accreditations that may be relevant include:

  • ISO 9001; 14001
  • OHSAS 18001
  • SMAS
  • CIS
  • Managing Contractors.

Keeping up to date with Health and Safety

Health and safety are important aspects of any contracting work. Contractors want to be reassured that your business upholds best practice when it comes to health and safety. They want to ensure that both employees and members of the public will be safe while fulfilling contracts.

You will likely be asked to supply a copy of your health and safety policy. It should comply with the current legislations and be up to date. Benefits of this include:

  • Increasing staff morale and leadership within the workplace
  • Lower insurance costs
  • Overall reduction of health and safety risks and incidents on a daily basis 
  • Improved staff confidence and retention in the organisation
  • Developing an organisation’s culture centred around health and safety.

Relevant health and safety management systems, policies and regulations could include:

  • ISO 45001
  • SafeContractor
  • CHAS
  • Health and Safety at Work Act 1975
  • Constructionline
  • CDM Regulations 2015.

There could be additional criteria that you need to meet but the above represents the most common requirements.

When completing pre-qualification questionnaires for subcontractors, the buyer will be looking for information such as:

  • How you recruit and select your subcontractors.
  • What you look for and require from them.
  • How you ensure that they adhere to your company’s policies and procedures.
  • How you check that their declarations are accurate.
  • The KPIs you set to ensure high-quality performance from your subcontractors and how you collect this information.
  • What is the penalty if your standards are not met?

Having control over your subcontracting procedures is already part of some ISO standards such as Investors in People. If you are already ISO accredited in this way, make sure you quote this information in the PQQ.

Failure to complete the pre-qualification questionnaires for subcontractors, if you plan to use them, could result in penalties later on. You could also risk failing the PQQ stage. The buyer could assume that you intend to deliver the contract alone. If they can’t see supporting evidence indicating that you are capable of this, you could be disqualified.

Traditionally, there are three main types of subcontractor:

  1. Domestic subcontractor – appointed and selected by the main contractor.
  2. Named subcontractor – selected from a list of acceptable subcontractors provided by the client.
  3. Nominated subcontractor – selected by the client to carry out an element of the works.

Subcontracting for the main contractor

Subcontracting on the main contract is an effective way for smaller businesses to grow and gain experience. If your business is too small or new to deliver a contract alone, subcontracting can open doors to tendering.

If you have already agreed to subcontract for the main contractor, you should be prepared to answer some questions. The main contractor will need to provide the required information to ensure they meet the criteria.

Although you are not completing the PQQ yourself, you should respond with the information they require as quickly as possible. By providing the details, you can help them win the contract. If they win, by default, they share their success with you and carry you into new marketplaces.

A few more ways to build your experience as a small business include:

  • Applying for places on a framework agreement.
  • In the healthcare industry, spot provider frameworks are a good way for new businesses to leverage themselves into tendering.
  • Applying to provide goods or services through a dynamic purchasing system (DPS). 

Passing the PQQ stage

In the public sector, most buyers will use a prequalifying stage in order to shortlist suppliers. In construction, this could be referred to as a PAS91.

Most PQQs will be tick-box exercises but don’t get complacent. You are selling your services at every stage of the tendering process and the PQQ is just as important. Failing to pass this stage will end your tendering journey. The only way to gain access to the invitation to tender (ITT) is by impressing the buyer with your PQQ.

In order to be successful, you should ensure that:

  • You have fully read all the text. Sometimes questions can be embedded into the text and you don’t want to submit an incomplete response.
  • You are adding value. Where more text is allowed, give your answer the edge by adding value to your response. Try and offer that little bit more to really impress the buyer.
  • Your organisation is represented in the best light. Remember, this is likely to be your first impression on the buyer. Ensure that the required information is provided and that your answers are coherent and professional.

If you have everything in order internally, the PQQ should be a straightforward process. But sometimes, the issue isn’t the questions, it’s the time it takes to respond.  

Need help with a PQQ?  

If your business is struggling to respond to PQQs due to time constraints or internal resources, Hudson Succeed can help. Our team of expert Bid Writers have over 40 years’ experience with completing pre-qualification questionnaires for subcontractors and assisting with the tendering process. 

Simply upload your PQQ documents for a free quote.

What happens after the PQQ?

After successfully completing the pre-qualification questionnaires for subcontractors and being accepted, you will be issued with an ITT. This is called a ‘closed tender’ as the buyer has shortlisted the suppliers of interest. If successful at this stage, you will win the contract and the subcontracting process can begin. (It’s important to note that not every tender will require a PQQ. Some buyers will jump straight to the ITT stage. This is called an ‘open tender’.)

The ITT contains the questions you must respond to. The number of types of questions will vary from tender to tender as each contract will have different requirements.

Sometimes, draft ITTs are provided alongside pre-qualification questionnaires to give you an indication of the specified requirements.

Usually, in the public sector, the ITT documents will provide you with:

  • A cover letter (or ITT letter).
  • A scope of procurement detailing the exact requirements and the important contract dates.

Now, it’s time to respond. When writing a bid, your goal is to persuade the buyer that you are the best choice. Our top three tips for successful bid writing are:

  1. Break down the questions

Don’t just rush in and start responding to the questions. It’s likely that your answers will be unstructured and unclear. Make lists as you review the ITT documents and detail which sections need completing. You should also note if you will require any information from other departments or members of your team.

Then, break down the quality questions. Plan how you’re going to respond and structure your answers. The most important thing is to answer the question in detail. If the word count is 500 words, use them all, as long as the content is directly answering the specification.

  1. Demonstrate your capabilities

Use hard evidence to demonstrate to the buyer why you are the most suitable supplier. This can be done through relevant case studies, accreditations, qualifications and awards. You are trying to make a compelling argument, therefore, the more facts and evidence, the better.

  1. Be prepared for social value questions

Starting this year (2021), government bodies will be placing at least a 10% weighting on your social value responses. In most public sector tenders, social value has always been a factor. The authorities want to see how your organisation positively impacts the wider community, not just their contract.

Now, they have gone a step further. In order to ensure the taxpayer’s money goes further, they are specifically assessing these sections. The buyer wants to see how your company will/is contributing to the Covid-19 recovery. For example, are you hiring local employees to contribute to the economic recovery of your community? Are you creating jobs in your local area?

Other factors such as environmental considerations will also be assessed. Consider how you can shine here. Has your company recently gone paperless? Do you place specific emphasis on using green energy? Do you reward employees through a cycle or walk to work scheme?

Can anyone help with your ITT? ­

Many companies do not have internal bid writing teams. This means that time and resources can prevent them from reactively tendering as they would like to.

Our team at Hudson Succeed offer four levels of bid writing services:

  1. An ad-hoc Tender Writing

Once you’ve found the perfect tender for your business, why not send it our way? Our Bid Writers can take care of it all for you. They’ll let you know what they need from you, providing you with a full Tender Writing breakdown. They’ll even submit it on your behalf.

  1. Tender Readyprogramme

Our 4-week Tender Ready programme is perfect for businesses that have never tendered before. A Bid Writer will work with you to make sure you have everything in place to tender successfully. Tender Ready offers your business:

  • A 12-month subscription to one of our Hudson Discover portals.
  • Access to Global Bid Directors and Senior Bidding Professionals.
  • An Organisation-wide Bid library, including 3 case studies, 5 CV’s and 8 policies.
  • Additional flexible benefit options.
  1. The Tender Improvementpackage

If you’ve been tendering but aren’t seeing the results you want, our Tender Improvement package can help. Our Bid Team will assess your previous responses and tender documents, working with you to improve for future submissions. This package includes a 12-month subscription to a Discover portal of your choice and additional tendering development services.

  1. Tender Mentor service

If you’ve written your own tender response and need someone to double-check it for errors, Tender Mentor can help. The Bid Team will proofread your work for any inconsistencies, grammar or spelling mistakes. They’ll also ensure that it’s in line with the specification before you submit.

The team proudly holds an 87% success rate, so you can be sure that your bid is in safe hands. Get in touch for a free quote.

Find more helpful tips and advice in our blogs. We cover topics including:

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