The Legal Aid Agency has set out its plan for coping with heavy budget cuts in the year ahead.

In its first business plan, published today, the agency, which replaced the Legal Services Commission on 1 April, sets out its ambitions for 2013/14.

Over this period the legal aid budget will fall from around £2bn to around £1.8bn, a 7.7% reduction. The agency’s administration costs will be £86.1m, down 12.3% from the budget allocated last year.

During the year it will focus on implementing changes introduced by the government’s reform agenda. In particular it commits to:

  • Work with MoJ to design ‘a competitive mechanism for crime contracts’;
  • Review operation of the mandatory telephone gateway and, if appropriate, expand its use to additional categories of law;
  • Work with the MoJ to deliver reductions in experts’ and counsel expenditure in legal aid, subject to consultation;
  • Reduce processing times for assessment of eligibility to within two weeks and payment to within four weeks in 90% of cases;
  • Make the ‘best use’ of the public defender service;
  • Move towards 100% online working with providers.

It will also seek to move civil casework fully online, and over the next three years move all crime systems online.

In the introduction, the lord chancellor Chris Grayling (pictured) said: ‘I am determined to improve the administration of legal aid in England and Wales in order to provide a better service for the taxpayer and to ensure that scarce public funding is targeted at the most serious cases, for those who genuinely can’t afford to pay for legal advice and representation.’

Chief executive Matthew Coates said the launch marks a ‘major evolution’ in the delivery of legal aid.

He said the organisation is determined to achieve the best value for the public purse, deliver excellent standards and improve its performance.

‘As we become an integral part of the MoJ, the agency will also benefit from shared services which, together with a major investment in IT, will reduce our staffing costs while providing a more accessible service to our customers,’ he said.

Coats stressed his independence as the director of legal of legal aid casework and set out his three priorities for the service – delivering strong operational performance in casework and stewardship of public funds; developing the agency and working more effectively with providers.

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