PCT & Law Society course

I’ve heard of a number of solicitors and barristers expressing their dissatisfaction with The Law Society deciding to instruct DG Legal to deliver a course. This course is about campaigning against Price Competitive Tendering but also preparing for the worst should PCT be implemented.

In this blog, I want to make clear why the course was organised and explain the timing. Before I do that, I’d like to re-iterate our stance on PCT.

PCT is extremely dangerous.

Abandoning choice in the criminal legal sector will lead to miscarriages of justice which will be disastrous and expensive to later correct if they can be corrected at all.

Access to justice will be damaged irreparably and whilst its supporters believe that short term savings may be realised, this is at the expense of a significant long term risk to the fund, and lots of people will be put out of business.

I come at this debate from a slightly different angle. I co-managed a Crime PCT pilot at the Legal Aid Board in London in the late 1990s. In common with the proposed model, every firm was paid differently. The difference between the lowest paid and the highest paid firm was significant. This was plainly inequitable.

Some 25 firms in London participated in the pilot. The main conclusion was that if the provider base contracted so drastically, the Government would lose negotiating power in future tender rounds. As competition is reduced, supply is decreased. It is basic economics that as supply goes down, price goes up in the long term. That is in the interests of the few that survive only. This is why there is a small number of large firms making huge profits providing public services to government. This may be acceptable in other industries but not in the legal sector where justice must come before profit.

I made clear my opposition to PCT at the CLSA meeting on 22nd May. A copy of my speech is HERE.

Now to move on to answering the four questions/comments that have been put to me.

Why was the course organised?
While I think that PCT should not be introduced, I cannot be 100% sure that it will not. We have a contractual obligation to provide advice to our retainer clients and help them prepare for the worst should PCT happen. Quite simply, we would be negligent if we did not help our clients plan for PCT should this dangerous initiative take place.

We felt that provision of a course may be of particular assistance to smaller firms that cannot afford to engage accountants or consultants.

Why did you not organise the course privately?
Many of our courses are delivered through other organisations such as the Law Society. The Law Society felt that despite their overwhelming opposition to PCT, they had a duty to their members to offer a course should some form of PCT be implemented.

Why did the Law Society announce the course at the height of the campaign? You should have waited for a final decision to be made by the Government first.
I agree that the timing was unfortunate but I don’t think they had much choice. The course takes place next month and they needed to publicise it at some point before the course.

I felt that those interested in preparing for the worst needed to do so at least 3 months before the tender window opens.

What has caused the problem is the timetable. The MoJ say that they won’t respond to the consultation until the Autumn but that the tender window opens in October!

Therefore, there is simply isn’t time to prepare between the Government making a decision and the tender process starting.

You are undermining our campaign by offering to help providers to prepare.
I cannot agree with this. Providing advice and assistance to legal organisations is one of our core activities.

I believe that the adverse commentary about the course is a distraction from the real fight of stopping PCT happening. This is why I’ve not commented on this publicly until now. However, the significant number of comments made on various forms of social media mean that the time has come to formally respond.

We have written to MPs pointing out that amongst other things, the London pilot did not work. We have spoken at several anti-PCT meetings and shall continue to campaign.

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