The government is reopening the tender process for two of the three areas for which it received insufficient bids for new criminal legal aid contracts.
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 start on 11 January 2016.
However, the Legal Aid Agency received insufficient bids in three procurement areas: Devon and Cornwall 1 (Devon), Dyfed-Powys 2 and Hampshire 2 (Isle of Wight).
Outlining plans for the three procurement areas, the agency said Dyfed-Powys 2 received three bids against four available contracts. Subject to the applicant organisations successfully completing the assessment process, the agency will now award three contracts.
In Devon and Cornwall 1 (Devon), the agency received four bids. Eight contracts were available. Organisations which bid in the original tender will be awarded a duty contract if their assessment process is successful.
Following a meeting with local providers to discuss procurement options, the agency said a ‘key barrier’ identified was travel requirements to cover the entire procurement area. As a result, the agency has decided to subdivide the procurement area into four smaller zones – centred in Exeter, Plymouth, Teignbridge/Torbay and Barnstaple – and run a tender for up to an additional four contracts in each zone.
The tender will be open to organisations that hold a 2015 own-client contract and have an office in the Devon and Cornwall procurement area.
The Barnstaple zone will also be open to 2015 own-client contract holder in the Somerset & Avon 1 area.
Organisations awarded a duty contract as part of the original tender will only be eligible to bid for one further duty contract in one zone only.
Meanwhile, the LAA received received two bids for Hampshire 2 (Isle of Wight) against four contracts available.
The agency said the share of duty contract work will increase by 50% against the anticipated contract value advertised should the two bids pass the assessment process.
It will also tender for a third duty contract, comprising 25% of the total work available in the procurement area. The tender will be open to any eligible organisation, including the original bidders.
The MoJ said the new contracts would commence in line with the original timetable.
A spokesperson for the ministry told the Gazette: ‘Having met with bidders in each of the three areas, we have developed approaches which will make sure we have crime provision in all of them.
‘We remain on track for service to start in all areas on the planned date in January 2016.’