A tender trap?
.
.
.
peterridley
The Legal Aid Agency has opened the tender process for the 2018 civil contracts. If you're planning to bid, it's time to start thinking about the process.
The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) has opened the tender for civil, family and mediation contracts to start on 1 September 2018. If you want to do legal aid work after 31 August 2018, you must submit a bid by the closing date and time: 10 November at 5 pm. You need to bid using the LAA’s online eTendering portal. The contracts will run for three years with an option for the LAA to extend for two years. Existing contracts are being extended.
Apart from housing possession court duty schemes (HPCDSs) and the civil legal advice (CLA) telephone service, bids are not competitive. As long as you can demonstrate that you meet the LAA’s requirements, and submit a technically correct bid, you will get a contract. You need to register your interest in the type(s) of contract you want through the LAA’s eTendering portal.
Selection questionnaires and invitations to tender
You need to submit a selection questionnaire (SQ). You only submit one SQ per legal entity, regardless of the number/type of contracts or offices you are bidding for. You also need to submit an invitation to tender (ITT) for each contract type you are interested in.
The LAA has put a note on the portal to say that it still uses the previous term PQQ (pre-qualification questionnaire) and has not been updated to SQ. The SQ is not in the PQQ section of the website; it is in the multi-lot tab of the ITT section. You need to click on the SQ, which is tender code ITT 445. If you select an ITT, you will see the SQ, which you can then select. You will see the SQ and the ITT you have chosen in the My ITTs tab. You need to click on ‘create response’ the first time and afterwards ‘edit response’ to enter answers to the questions.
Be realistic and avoid making speculative bids. The LAA warns that you are committing yourself to delivering everything you bid for.
The SQ asks basic information about the organisation. You may need to check with people individually as it relates to the past five years and their involvement in previous organisations. You must bid as the organisation that will hold the contract in 2018, so if you are going to set up a practice but it is not yet in existence, that’s fine: you can still bid. If you know your practice is going to merge with another practice before September 2018, you bid as the merged practice.
As on the client and cost management system, in some cases questions are only available to be completed depending on the answer to a previous question. You should save your work regularly as you can be logged out if you don’t, although you do get a warning to save if the time-out is approaching.
Lots
In most bids, you will need to decide how many matter starts you want. You will get the number of matter starts you bid for as long as you can meet the specific requirements for that lot (Face to face invitation to tender information for applicants (IFA) para 1.33). The more matter starts you want, the higher the LAA’s requirements. There is a table that shows the requirements at para 1.42 of the IFA. You will be able to self-authorise up to 50 per cent more matter starts each year (IFA para 1.73). It’s important to be realistic and avoid making speculative bids. The LAA warns that you are committing yourself to delivering everything you bid for (IFA para 1.16).
Top tender tips
Read the IFA carefully. The answers are almost always in there somewhere.
Where they are not, submit a question through the message board on the portal: the LAA publishes all questions and answers received.
Read the frequently asked questions (FAQs) carefully and submit your bid after the final ones are published, but comfortably in advance of the tender closing date.
Register your bids on the portal as early as you can and start completing the SQ and the ITTs you are interested in. You will know some of the answers straight away and can come back to the ones you need to go away and find information to complete.
Allocate a small team to the bid, say, two people to complete it and a third to check it.
Make sure several people are registered to receive emails about the bid. Sometimes the LAA raises queries that need to be answered quickly. You don’t want to miss them as your bid could be invalidated.

About the author(s)

Description: Vicky Ling - author
Vicky Ling is a consultant specialising in legal aid practice and a founder member of the Law Consultancy Network.