12 September 2008
The Legal Services Commission has admitted to 'a difficult year' after failing to hit 19 of its 35 key performance indicator targets and seeing its new computer system collapse.
The LSC, which runs the legal aid scheme, has been attempting to drive through controversial reforms to the system for commissioning legal services following a 2006 review by Lord Carter.
But it achieved just 15 of its performance indicators, although it described another seven as 'partially met'. One indicator was changed mid-year.
A spokeswoman said the commission's performance against its key targets in 2007/08 had been hit both by 'protracted legal challenges' to the reform programme brought by the Law Society, and by the failure of the IT system designed to handle payments to legal services providers.
Following court rulings on the Law Society actions, the LSC negotiated a deal with the solicitors' professional body in the second half of the past financial year, 'significantly slowing the pace of reform', the spokeswoman said. 'That agreement was announced at the start of this financial year.'
Problems in implementing the supplier management computer system and its LSC Online web portal were the 'second significant event' hampering the commission's attempts to meet its targets.
'This had to be withdrawn from external use because of performance issues,' she said. The online system had to be shut down shortly after launching in November 2007, after it hit problems dealing with the volume of users.
But the LSC's annual report, published last month, revealed that delivery timescales for the IT project were 'driven from the outset by a predetermined need to meet target dates for the implementation of new remuneration schemes that would lead to early savings on the legal aid fund'.
This meant delivery of the system was 'extremely challenging and high-risk from the start', it said, adding that an off-the-shelf IT package had been 'procured before the scope of the schemes and processes [for handling legal aid payments] had been settled'.
The IT system was 'developed alongside finalisation of the fee schemes policy, which contributed to risk and costs', the report said.
The spokeswoman admitted that procuring the computer system in this way was 'a problematic thing to do', but said a revised system was being 'tested slowly' in pilot areas before a relaunch.