Monday, 1 March 2010

Civil tenders open

The delayed tender process for the new standard civil contracts opened on 26 February. Firms and not for profit agencies wanting contracts in family and social welfare law have to submit their tenders by 12 noon on 21 April. The contracts will commence on 14 October and will be for three years, with a possibility of a two-year extension.

Legal aid providers will be expected to submit their bids using an electronic application process, which is accessed through the Legal Services Commission (LSC) website. Tenders for immigration and asylum work had to be submitted by the end of January and used a similar e-tendering mechanism. LAG is not aware of any significant problems which occurred with this process, but the LSC did tweak the bid documents in the run-up to the deadline. The same has happened with the bid round for the standard criminal contracts which closes on 12 March. Therefore, legal aid providers should regularly check the LSC website for updates and to follow the questions and answers about the tendering process which will be published there until the end of March.

It is social welfare law work, defined by the LSC as debt, housing, welfare benefits, community care and employment, which has the most potential for difficulties. The civil tenders are complex - they cover 135 procurement areas and providers can apply in consortia to undertake housing, welfare benefits and debt work. Family law providers can also apply for tenders to undertake housing and family law.

Providers are not able to tender on a standalone basis for debt and welfare benefits work. One option is to expand into the area of law not covered, but LAG understands that the scoring system is weighted against bidders with no track record in an area of law. For housing law especially, the fear is also whether there will be enough new matter starts to make services viable. Consortia applications from existing suppliers are not without potential pitfalls. Organisations applying in consortia will be well advised to co-ordinate their bids carefully as a mistake on one bid could jeopardise the others.

The LSC has had to tread carefully to ensure that it does not fall foul of procurement law and to design a system which discourages overbidding. What happens in the coming months will determine if it has been successful or not.

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