Just before Easter, the LAA released some more information about the 2018 civil tender process.
The failed discrimination tender will be re-run, though in the education category existing providers have agreed to continue, so no re-tender will be necessary.
In housing the LAA has failed to secure court duty provision in Cornwall. In 39 procurement areas, no or only one compliant bid for face to face contracts was received, so the LAA will be re-tendering in late April 2018. These areas include the whole of the South West of England beyond Bristol and Somerset, much of northern England outside the major urban areas and parts of the Midlands. Meanwhile, the Law Centres Network has been given permission to judicially review the court duty tender process as a whole, with a hearing listed for next month.
In family, there were 7 areas with no or one bidder, and 6 in immigration.
The full list of areas that will be re-tendered can be found in Annex A of the LAA’s update, here.
This level of procurement failure is unprecedented in legal aid. The initial tender exercise failed to find any successful bidders in two whole areas of law – education and discrimination – and leaves many areas of the country without meaningful access to legal aid in other areas. It is a further development of a process of market failure which has been underway for a long time, accelerated by LASPO, where in many places it is no longer viable to continue legal aid work. It is difficult to see how a repeated tender exercise – based on the same scope restrictions, payment rates, and contract terms – will yield a significantly different outcome. Last week Community Law Partnership, a top firm of housing lawyers in Birmingham, tweeted a typical case of a family turned away from housing assistance and only housed after a threat of judicial review. The entire thread sums up the value of the work they and others like them do – and ended with a reminder of why there are ever fewer who can.