Tories will halt roll out of best value tendering, says Grieve
A Conservative government would suspend the national rollout of best value tendering (BVT) to enable a proper evaluation of the controversial new scheme, the shadow justice secretary announced last week.
Dominic Grieve QC said that pilots due to begin in Greater Manchester and Avon and Somerset would be allowed to proceed. However, the phased national rollout – currently planned to begin in June 2010 – would be delayed, pending a full evaluation of the tendering process and its impact.
Grieve (pictured) was speaking at a conference held by the Legal Action Group to mark the 60th anniversary of legal aid. He stressed that his pledge was contingent on the Conservatives winning a general election expected next May, his appointment to the Ministry of Justice, and the cost implications of the move.
BVT will see firms bid against each other to provide police station work, which practitioners predict would lead to the demise of the majority of criminal legal aid firms and drive down quality.
Grieve said: ‘We really should be concerned about the lasting damage that could be done if we’ve got this wrong. It could permanently damage the provision of criminal legal aid.’
He questioned whether the LSC could manage the process and whether in reality there were any savings to be made.The Law Society, which two weeks ago called on members to respond to the LSC’s consultation on BVT, welcomed Grieve’s statement. ‘Our concerns about abandoning [former LSC chair Sir Michael Bichard’s] commitment to a sound objective evaluation are well known. We welcome this statement from Dominic Grieve MP and we urge the LSC to think again before it is too late,’ Chancery Lane said.
Lord Bach, the legal aid minister, said spending on legal aid had increased from £835m to £1.2bn over the past 20 years, which he claimed represented annual real terms growth of about 5%.
However, Grieve suggested spending on legal aid had fallen by 22% in real terms over that time, while spending on the Crown Prosecution Service had risen by 98% and spending on the Serious Fraud Office had gone up by 124%.
Commenting on Grieve’s announcement, Joy Merriam, chairwoman of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, said: ‘I’m very glad one political party can see the folly of this scheme. Looking at this government’s performance, and the likely outcome of the next election, perhaps the LSC would like to reconsider its position.’
At the conference, Bach announced the findings of a report on the impact of the recession and funding changes on the provision of legal advice at a local level. The report recommends further monitoring of the practical and financial impact of the introduction of fixed fees, the changed payment process and the impact of CLACs.