The Legal Aid Agency has received insufficient bids for new legal aid contracts in Devon and Cornwall, part of Wales and the Isle of Wight, it revealed this morning.
The Ministry of Justice 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 agency announced it had received 1,099 bids from more than 500 organisations across the 85 procurement areas.
However, it received insufficient bids in three procurement areas: Devon and Cornwall 1 (Devon), Dyfed Powys 2 and Hampshire 2 (Isle of Wight).
The LAA said it had ‘plans’ on what to do in areas where there were insufficient viable bids, but did not disclose details.
A spokesperson said: 'We are pleased to have secured sufficient bids in 82 of the 85 areas and the assessment process for the tender is under way. In the three areas where there are insufficient bids we will be engaging with local providers before final plans are published. We expect to notify applicants about tender outcomes in September 2015.'
As the Gazette reported earlier this year, many firms in Wales made the commercial decision not to bid.
Scott Bowen, Welsh representative on the Law Society’s access to justice committee, said at the time that firms were ‘already struggling to make ends meet’ because of the geography they covered as well as dealing with the fee cuts.
Since then the government has announced a second 8.75% fee cut from 1 July.
The announcement, in which it also confirmed it was pressing ahead with its plans for 527 duty provider contracts, prompted angry practitioner groups to set up a ballot, inviting solicitors to refuse work at the new ‘derisory’ rates’. The ballot closes at 9pm on Monday.
A Law Society spokesperson said: ‘Events of the past year, culminating in the second fee cut, are leading to profound changes in how criminal legal aid will be delivered in this country.
‘We will continue to work with all of our members to understand their response to this upheaval and support them through this period of major change as they continue to provide excellent services to the public.
‘We will scrutinise any proposed LAA plans for dealing with areas where insufficient bids were received to ensure that the situation in those areas does not further undermine access to justice.’