Tag Archive | "LAA"

‘Legal aid contracting process flawed’ claims whistleblower.

As firms are receiving notification of the results of their crime tenders in a process of slow torture, a former insider at the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) has alleged that the contract procurement process has been botched. Freddie Hurlston, who worked as a bid assessor for the agency between July and September this year, has told the ‘Law Gazette’ of a serious catalogue of alleged flaws in the procedure of awarding contracts.

He was previously head of criminal justice system initiatives at the LAA. He said many of the staff assessing the bids were from Brook Street temporary staff agency on around £9.30 an hour and had no knowledge of legal aid or previous experience of public sector procurement. He said the ‘very limited’ training did not cover specific issues for each question in the procurement exercise or what to look out for when awarding points.

The agency received around 1,000 bids. Hurlston said there were 17 questions in each bid and the questions were sub-divided into three or four parts leading to a total of around 50,000 answers to be assessed. “It was clear after a few days of assessment that there were insufficient staff to assess all the questions with any quality,” he said.

Hurlston said daily performance figures were publicly posted, and members of the team who did not meet the daily target rate were sacked, “placing pressure on quantity rather than quality on the other members of the team to the detriment of the assessment process.”

Staff were also recruited from across the LAA to “assist with the increasingly frantic effort to assess the responses” by the end of September, “leading to around 50 people working on assessing the bids, many of them with little or no training.”

Hurlston said an official from the Cabinet Office raised concerns about the validity of the assessment process at a meeting on 1 October. He said he raised his concerns with LAA chief executive Matthew Coats on 6 October by email but has not received a response.

“The LAA did not follow good practice when assessing the bids and, as a consequence, the results may be unfair to some firms,” he said.

The Law Society has emphasised the need for the LAA to address the concerns about the contract procurement process raised by Freddie Hurlston. Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: “It is vital that the LAA fully addresses the concerns raised …regarding aspects of the tender process. We have requested a full response from the LAA supported by evidence which demonstrates that the evaluation of the tenders was conducted robustly, fairly and appropriately on the merit of the bids.”

A spokesperson for the agency said: “The LAA strongly denies these allegations. We have followed a robust and fair process in assessing duty tender bids. We have taken additional time to notify bidders precisely to make sure these important decisions are right. Assessors received a comprehensive training package to ensure transparent, consistent and fair treatment of all applicant organisations. The assessment process has been subject to careful moderation and management at all stages.”

Though there is no right of appeal to a contract decision within the tender process, the Law Society has set out guidance on potential routes for challenging the LAA’s decisions. Judicial review is another option, but the Society said. “It should be noted that even if a judicial review were to be successful, it would not follow that the contract decisions would change.”

JR procedure is inevitable. Just a matter of time.

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)

Legal aid contract announcement

The MoJ never lose the ability to leave you speechless.

The announcement of winners of new legal aid contracts was promised by the end of September. Firms were expecting to be told last week via the Legal Aid Agency’s Bravo e-tendering portal whether they have won one of a reduced number of contracts to provide 24-hour cover at police stations. But what a cliffhanger that turned out to be. We were told Monday, then Tuesday, then Wednesday. On Wednesday we were told “soon” On Thursday we were told “by the end of the week.” Read the full story

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)

Big firms support legal aid protest action

The Big Firms Group, an alliance of over 30 large criminal legal aid firms that do around 25% of criminal legal aid work, said it would support individual direct action after a meeting held last week. Members of the Big Firms Group have sought advice from Blackstone Chambers’ Dinah Rose QC on the action.

Bill Waddington, chair of the CLS, said the Big Firms Group’s decision sends out the ‘strongest signal’ that the legal profession has had enough of the government’s legal aid policy, which he said was driving legal aid firms and their staff into financial ruin. Read the full story

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)

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