In defence of its decisions affecting family practitioners, the Legal Services Commission states that it will commission the same level of help as last year. However, in the low-volume categories, it is clear that the LSC has deliberately reduced the numbers of matter starts nationally, to the detriment of the rights of vulnerable clients.
We are one of the few education law specialists in England and Wales, and we received our allocation of new matter starts on 25 August. In the year to 31 March, we had undertaken about 190 matter starts. We bid for 250 in the new contract. We were awarded 111 – some 44% of the bid, which means a reduction of 42% on the cases actually undertaken in the last financial year.Preliminary indications from other providers are that everyone has been reduced to just over 40% of what they bid. In the public law category the cuts appear to be even more severe, with under 30% of bid numbers being awarded.
No reasons have yet been given by the LSC. It should be called upon to explain how this state of affairs meets the requirements of the access to justice provisions of the 1999 act. Also, it should provide full information dealing with the numbers bid by each organisation relative to their actual workload in the year ended 31 March.
It seems to me that considerations of procurement are still outweighing the need to preserve access to justice and the services available from experienced practitioners. There have been suggestions that some organisations have overbid – ie that they do not have a track record of experience providing a sufficient volume of quality work in the area concerned. The LSC needs to explain why it accepts bids from unproven organisations and reduces the allocation of work to experienced providers.
John Ford Solicitors, London N4