Thursday, 4 July 2013

MoJ Legal Aid Procurement Strategy needs an advocate

The Ministry of Justice's procurement has an uncanny knack of providing something worth discussing.The latest being a decision to put its proposed legal aid reform on hold.

Like all good procurement practice MoJ engaged in consultation with the market but there were fundamental doubts as to whether or not the Lord Chancellor has been serious about consultationJoshua Rozenberg provided a really good review of how that discussion went - suffice to say it did not go well and the key stakeholders, lawyers, put forward a purely selfless argument, that a tendering exercise with lowest price being the main criteria would not be good for justice.

The MoJ appeared to have had one central objective in the exercise, namely, to save £220m a year out of the annual spend of £2bn. Perhaps the outcome of the consultation may have been more productive if they had asked their learned friends for solutions on how to take cost out of the system.

However, whether or not the Lord Chancellor was serious about the consultation, he does appear to have heard something; I suspect what he heard was not the criticisms of the approach but the threat that few, if any, of the lawyers would compete for the business. Now all good procurement people know one key fact, a competitive tendering exercise only works if sellers chose to bid - the legal profession appear to have used their powers of persuasion to suggest that they wouldn't take part in a bidding process. The outcome is a return to the drawing board for the MoJ and I suspect a discussion on how on earth these ket stakeholders can reach a readiness to change

I have no idea how the MoJ propose to move forward on this but it will pose major problems:

  1. The lawyers appear to have won through harnessing their collective power to opt out of tendering;
  2. The notion that lowest price wins is rarely right but how will the MoJ repackage the procurement strategy or will they just give up?
  3. If you chose to take on lawyers are the odds stacked against you winning in a regulated procurement environment? 
  4. The government now appear to have met their 'trade union' nemesis in trying to bring about change with the 'professions' of the medical world and the legal world  - how will they change their future negotiating strategy?

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