ASA Responds to the LSC Preferred Supplier Consultation
In April ASA summarised and commented on the LSCís Preferred Supplier consultation paper. ASA has now submitted its response to the LSC. We summarise the response below.
There is a lack of detail in the consultation document. It results from the LSCís reliance on the long-anticipated publication of the Carter Review of Legal Aid to determine criteria for entry into the scheme and prioritisation for its rollout. The LSC must consult again once Lord Carter has published his findings and the proposals for preferred supplier have been finalised.
ASA supports the wider use of peer review and is in favour of the requirement that all suppliers must achieve a peer review rating of 1 or 2 to be included in the scheme.
However, not all providers will be peer reviewed in all areas of law. Instead the LSC plans to use file assessment to assess the quality of non-major areas of law. This represents a compromise of one of the original objectives of the preferred supplier pilot, which was to drive up quality. We hope that the LSC will reconsider and revert to the position that all suppliers will have to be peer-reviewed in all areas.
ASA is sceptical about the benefits the LSC proposes for preferred suppliers. The extension of devolved powers in family law holds little benefit for the NfP sector as only a handful of agencies practice in this area.
The other major benefit discussed in the paper is an improved relationship between the LSC and suppliers, which will be facilitated by the LSCís new Relationship Managers (RMs). We are pleased to see that the LSC acknowledges that it has work to do to improve its relationship with suppliers, however, we are not convinced it will be able to deliver. The pilot RMs were responsible for 5 suppliers but on rollout, they will have responsibility for 35. We do not see how they will be able to maintain the same level of service for this number of suppliers.
The consultation seeks suggestions for other benefits it could offer suppliers. In order to maintain the good will of those it contracts with, and in return for meeting the preferred supplier criteria, the LSC should increase its remuneration rates.
ASA is concerned that the implementation of the preferred supplier scheme by the proposed deadline of 2009 will reduce the supplier base and mean that access to advice will be limited even more than it is now. It is also likely to have an adverse impact on smaller suppliers, many of which are BME or female majority managed.
The LSC should therefore carry out a full equalities impact assessment as it implements the scheme and should abandon the 2009 deadline now in order to ensure that quality and access are not compromised for the sake of keeping to a timetable.
ASA's full response