Challenges to the outcome of the government’s tender for new legal aid contracts appear inevitable after a former insider at the Legal Aid Agency alleged the contract procurement process was botched.
Criminal defence practitioners were told last Thursday if they had won one of a reduced number of contracts to provide 24-hour cover at police stations.
However, the day before the announcements were made, Freddie Hurlston, who worked as a bid assessor for the agency between July and September, contacted the Gazette to make incendiary claims about the staffing and assessment process.
‘It is generally accepted as best practice in public sector procurement that suitably qualified staff are used, that they are properly trained for the job and that a timetable is followed that allows due consideration of the bids,’ Hurlston told the Gazette. ‘None of these best practice objectives were met.’
The Legal Aid Agency ‘strongly’ denied the allegations.
Hurlston, who was previously head of criminal justice system initiatives at the Legal Services Commission, 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.
A spokesperson for the LAA said: ‘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.’