Bar welcomes postponement of Best Value Tendering but warns that flaws have still not been addressed

THE Bar Council has welcomed the announcement by the Legal Services Commission that Best Value Tendering (BVT) will not be introduced before a full evaluation has been undertaken. This follows months of vocal opposition from the Bar Council, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) and the Law Society against the LSC’s proposals. Having reviewed the submissions to its consultation issued in March, the LSC has recognised in its response published yesterday that the timetable for undertaking pilot schemes was too fast and would give insufficient time for a proper evaluation. Under revised arrangements, pilot schemes will operate for twelve to eighteen months before they are reviewed, with a proposed publication date for the review of August 2012 and no further implementation before 2013. The Bar is also pleased to see the LSC’s commitment to undertake a full review of the pilots before deciding whether there should be any further implementation.

Despite yesterday’s announcement, the Bar remains concerned about the concept of BVT which the LSC’s response document does not address. The Bar says the LSC has failed to make the economic case for the introduction of BVT. It remains very concerned that the disruption to the provider base will outweigh any intended savings. The Bar remains extremely concerned about the absence of plans to a carry out a full impact assessment on BME and women practitioners during the pilots, since the expected adverse effects of the scheme will impact on these groups disproportionately.

Commenting on the LSC’s response, Desmond Browne QC, Chairman of the Bar, said:

“Even though the LSC has decided to proceed with the pilot in Avon and Somerset and Greater Manchester, it is welcome news that the Commission has heeded the pleas of the Bar Council and the Law Society and decided not to roll out BVT more widely until 2013. We remain concerned that the LSC has not addressed our concerns about the discriminatory impact of their proposals on women and BME practitioners. In their original paper the LSC acknowledged the discriminatory nature of their proposals. Regrettably, what they now propose does not begin to redress that effect.

Finally, it is clearer than ever that this is not Best Value Tendering but what the Commission used to call price competitive tendering. Provided that practitioners meet a low entry threshold of quality, the tendering process will make no attempt to assess the quality of the service they offer.”