As the Ministry of Justice prepares to announce the outcome of its tender process for new legal aid contracts, some firms are prepared to withdraw their bids, a practitioner group claimed today.

The ministry is pressing ahead with plans to reduce the number of contracts for solicitors providing 24-hour cover at police stations from 1,600 to 527. The tender process closed on 5 May. The new contracts are scheduled to begin on 11 January next year.

The MoJ received 1,099 bids from more than 500 organisations across 85 procurement areas. London will have 210 contracts in 32 procurement areas.

Firms will be notified of the tender outcome next month.

However, the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA) said some firms would be willing to withdraw their bids should others be willing to do the same.

In a message to members, the LCCSA committee said: ‘Many of us felt compelled to submit a bid for a contract but did so with little, if any, enthusiasm. In the past six weeks members have told us that, given the right circumstances they would withdraw their bids.

‘We understand from informal soundings in meetings with London members that there is a belief that the great majority of solicitor firms who have submitted bids would withdraw them if they could be confident that other firms would act in a similar manner.’

The LCCSA has asked firms to confirm their willingness to withdraw their bids ‘if sufficient bidding firms in that area indicated they would do the same’.

The practitioner group has also asked for confirmation from bidders which it said ‘have already reached a decision to refuse their tender offer’ as well as firms that have not submitted bids.

The deadline for responses is 28 August.

‘Subject to the degree of progress made in discussions with [the government], we may at any time contact all those indicating an intention to withdraw their bid or refuse an offer, to seek reconfirmation of their intention and to seek authority of the managing partner/director as to whether the firm consents to their name and/or their response being disclosed and to whom such information may be disclosed,’ the LCCSA said.

The message, entitled ‘Duty Provider Scheme Survey’, was sent out to members on the eve of a meeting between practitioner groups and the MoJ – the third since the government introduced a second 8.75% fee cut on 1 July that prompted thousands of solicitors across the country to boycott legal aid work under the new ‘derisory’ rate.