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Osborne juggles spending review

13 November 2015

Richard Messingham considers the difficult choices ahead for both George Osborne and David Cameron.


Two stories have dominated media outlets this week: the spending review and Cameron's renegotiations with the EU.

Ahead of the forthcoming spending review on 25th November, which this year will be combined with the autumn statement, the chancellor George Osborne has allowed a glimpse into what it will look like, revealing that 30 per cent spending cuts have been agreed by his own department, as well as by the Departments of Transport, Communities and Local Government, and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Other departments, including the Ministry of Justice, are still in the negotiation process.

In addition to the proposed £20bn cut to eliminate the deficit, Osborne has pledged to find £100bn to be allocated to infrastructure spending over the next five years, which further increases competition over the remaining funding. The Chancellor is also expected to slow down the pace of the promised cuts on tax credits. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds. Osborne has missed his deficit targets before without suffering in terms of popularity and trust in economic matters.

On the international front, David Cameron has finally revealed his long-awaited renegotiation goals, but they have received a tepid welcome both domestically and within the EU. Of the four key objectives at the core of the renegotiation, exempting Britain from ever-closer union and restricting EU migrants' access to in-work benefits remain controversial, with president of the European Council Donald Tusk observing that it will be really difficult to find an agreement with the UK.

Cameron cannot afford to loose the backbenchers' support. The House of Commons could become more of a problem if the SNP decides to get in the way like it did this week, defeating the government over its plans to loosen Sunday trading laws in England and Wales. The SNP, which once rarely voted on matters that are unrelated to Scotland, has now decided to do so and oppose the reforms on the grounds that they could drive down the wages of Scottish workers. No doubt the opposition will be even more fierce on issues that matter greatly for Scotland like Europe.

The public affairs team will be updating you next week on the key policy debates, developments and announcements, and how the Society will be making sure each parties politicians and members are aware of the Society's key priorities for justice.

Monday 9 November

House of Commons - written answers: legal aid tender process

Andy Slaughter: To ask the secretary of state for justice, pursuant to the statement by the minister for courts and legal aid, of 15 October 2015, HCWS 239, on HM Courts and Tribunals Service, what the total cost to the Exchequer was of the discontinued procurement process referred to in the statement.

Shailesh Vara: As I told the House on 15 October, we took the decision not to outsource HMCTS compliance and enforcement services to a single supplier because of the need to ensure that any contract we let provided the best value for the taxpayer. The total cost of the Compliance and Enforcement Service Project as of end of September 2015 was £8,723,645.

Andy Slaughter: To ask the secretary of state for justice, whether he plans to take steps in response to recent allegations made by a former employee of the Legal Aid Agency about irregularities regarding the staffing and process in assessing duty tender bids.

Shailesh Vara: The individual making these allegations was a member of temporary staff employed in a junior role. Tenders were awarded following a rigorous and fair process. Assessors received comprehensive training, which included a face-to-face instructor-led interactive workshop, undertaken by a permanent member of staff with specific experience of the tender process. This also included undertaking practical exercises in tender evaluation and bid-comparison processes, such as consideration of model answers to assure consistency in assessment. Furthermore, the entire process was subject to careful moderation and management.

Karl Turner MP: To ask the secretary of state for justice, how many temporary agency staff were recruited by the Legal Aid Agency to work on the procurement process for crime duty provider contracts, and what proportion of staff assessing the bids for such contracts were external staff.

Karl Turner: To ask the secretary of state for justice, what proportion of staff assigned to work on the procurement process for crime duty provider contracts had no previous experience of working on public sector procurement.

Karl Turner: To ask the secretary of state for justice, what weighting was given to the (a) disciplinary records of and (b) number of signatures of ongoing complaints against bidders in the procurement process for legal aid duty solicitor contracts.

Karl Turner: To ask the secretary of state for justice, what training was provided to the people who assessed bids for legal aid duty solicitor contracts in administering and assessing such contracts.

Karl Turner: To ask the secretary of state for justice, what assessment he has made of the efficacy of the procurement process for legal aid duty solicitor contracts; and if he will make a statement.

Shailesh Vara: 13 temporary staff were employed through the Brook Street Agency and a Crown Commercial Services Recruitment framework and were selected by the Legal Aid Agency and interviewed by permanent members of staff to ensure their suitability. These individuals made up 19 per cent of the overall assessment team. In addition contracts were entered into with legal practices to provide additional resource. The key criteria for employment were analytical skills and the ability to conduct a qualitative assessment. A legal or procurement background was considered an advantage but not essential, given that they would be supervised by permanent staff from the Legal Aid Agency. The procurement was undertaken in line with the Public Contract Regulations and applicant organisations were required to pass a number of stages of assessment in order to be considered suitable to hold a duty-provider contract. The criteria against which organisations were assessed is set out in the Information For Applicants which govern this procurement process.

(Answered on Friday 6 November)

House of Commons - written questions: criminal courts charge

Andy Slaughter MP: To ask the secretary of state for justice, what estimate he has made of the (a) gross and (b) net amount likely to be collected through the criminal courts charge in each of the next five financial years, and how much has been collected since that charge was introduced.

Shailesh Vara: It is right that we find better ways to pay the costs of running our Criminal Courts, and the introduction of this charge has made it possible to recover some of the costs from offenders, which reduces the burden on taxpayers. The government is, of course, keeping the operation of the Criminal Courts Charge under review. The information requested on estimates can be found at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2015/796/impacts

Data relating to the Criminal Courts Charge for the period April to September 2015 will be published in an annex to the Criminal Court Statistics Quarterly on gov.uk. This will separately identify the amount collected in the first six months since the charge coming into force, from 13 April 2015.

House of Commons - written questions: court closures

Caroline Ansell MP: To ask the secretary of state for justice, what account he has taken of accessibility of digital services for people who do not have access to the internet when considering potential court closures as part of proposals on the provision of the court and tribunal estate; and if he will make a statement.

House of Commons - written questions: legal aid

Greg Mulholland MP: To ask the secretary of state for business, innovation and skills, what assessment he has made of the potential impact on director conduct of the funding of insolvency litigation being brought under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.

House of Commons - written questions: magistrates' courts and crown court

Catherine McKinnell: To ask the secretary of state for justice, how many and what proportion of trials were ineffective due to the (a) prosecution being engaged in another trial, (b) prosecution advocate failing to attend and (c) prosecution increasing the time estimate due to insufficient time for trial to start in (i) magistrates' courts and (ii) the Crown Court in each year since 2007.

Catherine McKinnell: To ask the secretary of state for justice, what estimate he has made of the average cost to the public purse of a vacated trial in (a) magistrates' courts and (b) the Crown Court.

Catherine McKinnell: To ask the attorney general, what estimate he has made of the total expenditure on (a) in-house advocates and (b) external advocates in (i) magistrates' courts and (ii) the Crown court in each year since 2010-11; and what the average saving to the Crown Prosecution Service was from using in-house advocates in each of those years.

Catherine McKinnell: To ask the secretary of state for justice, how many and what proportion of trials cracked as a result of the prosecution due to (a) insufficient evidence, (b) witness absent or withdrawn, (c) public interest grounds and (d) adjournment refused in (i) magistrates' courts and (ii) the Crown Court in each year since 2007.

Catherine McKinnell: To ask the secretary of state for justice, pursuant to the answer of 22 October 2015 to question 11884, what estimate he has made of the total cost to the public purse of vacated trials due to the prosecution in each year since 2010-11; and (a) how many and (b) what proportion of trials were (i) ineffective and (ii) cracked in (A) Magistrates' courts and (B) the Crown Court for reasons related to the prosecution in each year since 2010-11.

House of Lords - written answers: criminal courts charge

Lord Allen of Kensington: To ask Her Majesty's government what plans they have to bring forward their review of the mandatory criminal courts charge.

Lord Faulks: It is right that we find better ways to pay the costs of running our criminal courts, and the introduction of this charge has made it possible to recover some of the costs from offenders, which reduces the burden on taxpayers. The government is keeping the operation of the criminal courts charge under review.

Tuesday 10 November

House of Commons: Immigration Bill

The bill is at Committee stage where it is considered for amendments.

Read the amendments in full

House of Commons: Science and Technology Committee

This was a one-off evidence session on the draft Investigatory Powers Bill and the consequences for privacy, proportionality and data security.

Matthew Hare, chief executive officer, Gigaclear John Shaw, vice president, Product Management, Sophos James Blessing, chair, Internet Services Providers' Association, Professor Ross Anderson, professor of Security Engineering, University of Cambridge, Professor Mike Jackson, formally of Birmingham City Business School, Dr Joss Wright, research fellow, Oxford Internet Institute Professor, Sir David Omand, visiting professor, Department of War Studies, King's College London.

Read the transcript

House of Commons written questions: clinical negligence

Karl Turner MP: To ask the secretary of state for health, what assessment he has made of the propriety of his department overseeing the consultation on a fixed recoverable cost regime in clinical negligence cases when it is the defendant in most such cases.

Karl Turner: To ask the secretary of state for health, what steps he has taken to ensure that claimant lawyers can continue to pursue low-value claims in clinical negligence cases in a fixed recoverable cost regime.

Karl Turner: To ask the secretary of state for health, what estimate he has made of the costs to his department associated with unmeritorious claims resulting from changes to a fixed cost recoverable scheme for clinical negligence.

Karl Turner: To ask the secretary of state for health, what assessment he has made of the effect of introducing a fixed recoverable cost regime in clinical negligence cases on the number of claims brought by claims management companies and litigants in person.

Karl Turner: To ask the secretary of state for health, what assessment he has made of the incentives for defendants in clinical negligence cases to encourage early admissions and settlements.

Karl Turner: To ask the secretary of state for health, what assessment he has made of the effect of claims management companies on the number of unmeritorious claims brought forward in clinical negligence cases.

House of Commons written questions: court fees

Fiona Twycross MP: Given your role in exercising the principle duty of the Greater London Authority to promote economic development and wealth creation in Greater London, and the impact that low female labour market participation has on London's economy, are you concerned about the fact that the introduction of fees for accessing employment tribunals, including an upfront fee of £1,200, is disproportionately impacting upon vulnerable groups such as pregnant women?

We will update you when the answers have been tabled.

Wednesday 11 November

House of Commons in recess: Science and Technology Committee

The committee has launched a short inquiry into the technology aspects of the Investigatory Powers Bill including the extent to which communications data and communications content can be separated. A further oral evidence session will be held in December.

Find out more about the committee inquiry here.

House of Lords in recess - written answers: Legal aid

Lord Falconer of Thoroton (shadow lord chancellor): To ask Her Majesty's government whether they have any plans to publish on the Legal Aid Agency website or legislation.gov.uk a consolidated version of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 and related regulations.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe (minister for intellectual property): The revised version of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 is due to be published and available by the end of 2015.

Thursday 12 November

House of Commons in recess

House of Lords in recess

Friday 13 November

House of Commons in recess

House of Lords in recess

Tags: George Osborne | politics | Westminster weekly update | David Cameron | European Union | legal aid

About the author

Richard Messingham is head of public affairs at the Law Society. He and his team are responsible for supporting the president and CEO to manage the Society's relationships with Parliamentarians, Ministers, civil servants and other major stakeholders of direct relevance to solicitors.
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