The government has put slots on its restructured legal panel out to tender, adding an extra £80m to the value of its contract to provide general legal services.

Up to 50 law firms will be vying for a panel spot for the £400m contract, which had an estimated value of £320m when details were initially published

Whitehall’s procurement arm, the Crown Commercial Service, has since removed insurance from the areas of law to be covered by the contract and added non-complex finance. It is also now welcoming consortium bids and other joint-working supply-chain model bids.

The invitation to tender document states that the panel agreement will have a reduced number of suppliers which can each expect to receive a high value of panel customer work.

Firms are expected to help ‘meet the spending challenges by offering efficiencies and competitive pricing, planning work and resources carefully and efficiently at all times without compromising on excellent quality’.

Applicants will be required to provide pricing by reference to hourly, daily and monthly rates. Discounts and free advice or training based on expenditure or income across all panel customers must be provided.

Later in the tender process, applicants will be asked to provide ‘creative and innovative’ pricing options and ‘effective’ alternative fee arrangements.

The panel will be divided into two tiers – 12 ‘tier one’ suppliers and six ‘tier two’ suppliers. Work will be awarded to tier-one suppliers in the first instance.

Should a tier-one provider be removed, the highest-ranking tier-two supplier will be invited to move up. If this happens, the tier-two firm will not be replaced.

Of those eligible to tender, a maximum of 50 top-scoring firms will be invited to participate in the next stage of the procurement process, which looks at suitability.

Up to 24 firms will make it to the third stage of the tender process, which will be assessed by a panel of senior civil servants.

Panel slots will be awarded to successful applicants on 21 February next year. The new panel agreements will come into force a week later.

The Crown Commercial Service’s invitation to tender also includes an ‘armed forces covenant’ – a public sector pledge from government, businesses, charities and organisations ‘to demonstrate their support for the armed forces community’, brought in under the Armed Forces Act 2011.

The covenant’s two principles are:

  • The armed forces community should not face disadvantages when compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services; and
  • Special consideration is appropriate in come cases, especially for those who have given most, such as the injured or bereaved.

The tender document states that the covenant does not form part of the tender evaluation. ‘However, [Crown Commercial Service] very much hopes you will want to provide your support’, it adds.

Current panel lists are due to expire on 31 January next year. The invitation document states that these will be replaced with panels for general legal services, finance and highly complex transactions legal advice, and rail-related legal services.

The three new panels will be complemented by a procurement of a panel for lower-value legal services. This will be open to panel customers and the wider public sector, accommodating low-value and low-volume transactions.