In an adjournment debate on Legal Aid reforms on 11 January 07, the following exchange took place:
Ms Karen Buck (Regent’s Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): The Minister said that 60 per cent. of cases will generate more income, and that is the key point, which I suspect will be reiterated several times by those who are lucky enough to catch your eye, Sir Nicholas. Our core point—certainly for those on the Labour Benches—is that the 40 per cent. of cases that do not generate more income will be disproportionately concentrated in areas where providers deal with the most vulnerable people and the most complex cases. Sadly, we have not yet heard any convincing evidence to lead us to believe otherwise.
Vera Baird: That is not, on the face of it, the case at all. My hon. Friend’s constituency, for instance, is very deprived, but about 51 per cent. of the suppliers in her constituency now do such work at below the fixed fee rates, so her argument does not follow at all. There are suppliers in the regions who cost more for the same job than suppliers in London, there are suppliers in some areas of London who cost more than those in other areas and there are suppliers who cost less. It is not, therefore, about regions, but about costs and about rolling out best practice so that we can get the best and the most out of all suppliers. We are reasonably confident that we have pitched the fees at roughly the right level.
As far as I can see, Vera Baird’s figures actually back up Karen Buck’s point. Nationally 40% of suppliers will be worse off, but in Karen Buck’s deprived constituency 49% will be worse off, which is a disproportionate concentration.
And what are those 49% to do? Why naturally, they are to provide more advice at a lower cost. It is worth noting that all these figures include Not-for-Profits, not just firms, which affects the proportions as well.
It is worth reading the whole debate, not least because Baird’s repeated response to questions about fixed fee levels is simply to say the the questioner’s constituency contains providers who currently charge less than the new fixed fee. This is quite possible, but does not make the fee any less of a problem for very large numbers of firms. Baird knows this, of course, but evades the point at every opportunity.