The LAG news blog is reporting that while Family contracts resulted in ‘carnage’ with an estimated 1300 out of 2400 firms being awarded contracts – about 54%, in Social Welfare Law the LSC is saying that it believes ‘around 70%’ of existing providers will be awarded contracts, but they are still doing ‘due diligence’ in 5 areas.
So if 46% failure is ‘carnage’, what is 30%? Two thirds of a carnage? Perhaps carnage lite? A triple decimation?
Certainly the 70% figure is not standard across the country. For example, my understanding is that there are only three SWL providers in Birmingham who were offered contracts (taking consortia as one, which may be unfair, depending how the LSC is doing its percentages). I can now publicly confirm that Community Law Partnership in Birmingham are one of the high profile and high quality private firms not to get a contract offer. CLP are asking for letters of support as they will be appealing. See Chris Johnson’s comment on our earlier post.
And then there are those who bid for a Housing/Family combination. How do we even begin to assess that? Would it be a ‘Family’ style failure rate of 46%, or would it only be the ‘better’ firms that did such a combo? No way to tell.
There is a kerfuffle in the Family sector over firms bidding for contracts without having the necessary staff in place, with other firms crying foul. If the same thing has happened in Housing, the jobs ads over the next few weeks should be interesting – staff to be in place before the October start date, of course.
Meanwhile, the Law Society continues to downplay the chances of a bringing a challenge to the contract process, with an email yesterday stating:
The Law Society is urgently seeking legal advice on the social welfare and family law tender results. However, even if there is a viable challenge, it is unlikely to provide a rapid solution to the problem firms are facing, which is why the media and Parliamentary lobbying effort is so important. The initial advice on the other civil contract tenders and results indicates that, based on available information, there is no obvious ground on which a challenge with merit could be made at this stage.
Despite how damaging the outcome has been, it is difficult to pinpoint within the mental health and immigration tenders any breach of procurement law or any decision the Legal Services Commission (LSC) has made that would be so irrational as to meet the judicial review threshold. However, the extent of the reduction in the number of suppliers in family and social welfare, which contrasts vividly with the LSC’s stated intention that the supplier base would not be significantly reduced, and risks creating major gaps in the supplier base, may give rise to additional arguments that could be mounted. We are actively keeping the situation under review.
It is however vital that each individual firm appeals any unsuccessful tender outcome, whatever the reason, within the prescribed timescales.
We appreciate many of our members have made successful bids but for the reasons outlined above with the consequent effect on clients, we have written to the legal aid minister Jonathan Djanogly requesting an urgent review of the tender results and their effect on legal aid provision.
We would urge practitioners who have been unsuccessful to raise the issue with their local MPs and media. You can help our lobbying by highlighting the issue to your MP and urging them to contact the legal aid minister.