Monday, 25 January 2010

Civil tenders answers

Following an exchange of letters between the chief executive of the Law Society Des Hudson and Carolyn Regan, the chief executive of the Legal Services Commission (LSC), there is now more certainty around the LSC’s plans for the civil legal aid tenders. The LSC, though, is keeping social welfare law (SWL) practitioners guessing on how it will decide between them in areas where there are more bidders than it requires.

Procurement plans for social welfare law will now be published this week. The plans will set out the number of cases starts the LSC requires in each category of law for each procurement area. The details of how cases will be split between each category will also be revealed in these plans. Bid rounds for SWL and family law will now open in the week beginning 22 February and the bid round for mental health work will open in the week beginning 8 February.

It would appear that the LSC is struggling to devise fair criteria to differentiate between bidders if too many bid for SWL work in one area. The situation is complicated because it is conceivable that single providers might bid for combinations of SWL against consortia with a number of providers. Also, what happens if a single bidder is perceived to be weak in one or more categories, and is up against consortia bidders which also have weaknesses, but in a different combination of categories?

LAG understands that discussions to try and untangle these difficulties are ongoing between representatives of legal aid providers and the LSC. However, the idea of combining these categories of law has been in the air since at least October 2008 when the draft consultation on the civil bid rounds was originally published. Surely, then, someone at the LSC should have thought around the practical problems of making this work before now?

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