New LSC Tender

This is the first part of a series of articles providing information and advice about preparing and submitting a tender free of pitfalls. This introductory article deals with what is being tendered, how and when. It also queries whether the process may be the subject of a legal challenge by a new entrant.

Barring any last minute hiccups, the Legal Services Commission (LSC) is due to open the Bravo eTendering Portal on 21 May order to tender for new civil contracts.

What is being tendered for?

  • Face to Face: The services tendered for will cover Family, Asylum, Housing & Debt, Housing Possession Court Duty Schemes and Mediation. This covers those categories where changes are being made to the scope of services included in the legal aid scheme following the LASPO Bill receiving Royal Assent.
    This tender will award matter starts. This ends speculation, at least for the time being, that the LSC was seeking to move away from allocating matter starts at the Legal Help level.
    Matter starts will be awarded in ‘lots’. The LSC say that this approach will enable them to award most applicants the volume of work that they bid for. Each provider will be guaranteed to receive a minimum number of matter starts. Applicants bidding for the highest numbers of matter starts may not receive the allocation they are seeking as they must wait to see whether there are any matter starts remaining in their procurement area after the LSC have allocated work to applicants in lower lots.
  • Telephone: This tender will cover any services that remain in scope in the areas of Housing and Debt, Discrimination, Special Educational Needs, and Family. The LSC intend to award 3 equal sized contracts in Family and 5 equal sized contracts in Housing and Debt. Procurement areas are not applicable as there will be no geographic restrictions on these contracts. In relation to the Family and Housing & Debt contracts, applicants will bid on the basis of hourly rates.  Discrimination and Special Educational Needs contracts will be awarded as a combined telephone and face to face service. The telephone element will also be tendered for using hourly rates. These contracts will not cover licensed work which shall remain with face to face providers.

Please note that only Debt, Discrimination and Special Educational Needs will need to go through the mandatory telephone gateway from April 2013. So, family providers, for instance, will be able to continue to accept walk in and referred face to face clients. However, the LSC do plan to consider extending the telephone gateway to other categories of law at a later date.

What is not being tendered for?
Those categories falling entirely out of scope will obviously not be part of the tender. But less obvious is that those categories remaining fully in scope will also not be part of this tender. So, this means that face to face contracts in the categories of Community Care, Mental Health, Actions Against the Police and Public Law will not be tendered for. Instead, these contracts will be re-tendered for at a later date.

Quality standards and a possible legal challenege
All providers which want to continue to hold LSC contracts will need either to be Lexcel accredited or to have passed a Specialist Quality Mark (SQM) Audit conducted by the SQM Delivery Partnership by April 2013.  The SQM Delivery Partnership is an external company that carries out SQM audits on behalf of the LSC.

This is a change of approach. In the previous Family tender, the LSC allowed providers to obtain the SQM or Lexcel accreditation within 6 months of the contract start date.

This requirement is likely to be controversial as some new start-up firms will not be able achieve SQM or Lexcel accreditation by the contract start date if they do not plan to commence trading until then.

This will worry both new entrants and firms that wish to split into new entities. As things stand, it appears that they cannot bid for a LSC contract.

The Commission may have to exercise some flexibility here by perhaps accepting SQM compliant documentation such as a Quality Manual and a Business Plan instead of insisting on achieving full SQM accreditation. Otherwise, a legal challenge based upon EU procurement law is a real possibility.

Process
In common with previous tenders, the LSC is splitting the tender into two stages – the Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) and the Invitation to Tender (ITT). However, they are carrying out the PQQ and the ITT stages of the tender at different times in the year. The PQQ will be released on May 21.

The LSC say that the ITT for the face to face contracts will be opened in mid-September. The ITT covering the telephone contracts will be opened earlier in Mid-August as the LSC have to provide 16 weeks’ notice to successful applicants.

The LSC is adopting this two stage approach in order to avoid having to spend time evaluating an ITT where a provider does not pass the PQQ stage.

Crime contracts
The current crime contracts will be extended for two years to 2015. Therefore, tendering of crime contracts will not take place until 2014 at the earliest.

Next articles
We will be providing an update on the LSC’s approach when the tender window opens shortly after May 21st and we’ll also focus on completion of the PQQ and how to avoid common errors made in previous tender rounds.

 

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