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This week five foreign multi-nationals - two US, two French and one German - making four separate bids will receive final tender documents from the LCD.
These are: EDS, Unisys, Sema Group jointly with Bull Information Systems and Siemens Business Systems (see adjacent panel).
According to one source: "The intention is for the supplier to computerise as much as possible."
The LCD's statement of requirement was advertised in the European Journal earlier this year. Its first section covers mandatory elements: to implement Caseman, part of the LCD's LOCCS system, throughout the 260 County Courts, and parts of the County Court Bulk Centre (CCBS) and Summons Production Centre (SPC). Caseman handles 45 per cent of court business and connects to the CCBS in handling bulk debt collection.
The second section, containing 'desirables,' includes management of the CCBS, SPC and County Court LOCCS, managing smaller systems including the Bankruptcy and Admiralty Courts, and the Crest listing system in the 76 Crown Courts.
"We would want to take over all the operational management of their IT systems, but not the core functions," one source says, referring to judicial administrative functions in the CCBS and SPC to which a supplier "could not bring economies". He adds: "We will be very interested in Crest because we see economies of scale there." Crest is a listing system, therefore a judicial function, says a union source.
A successful bidder will use its cash to bankroll development, then lease systems back to the LCD for an estimated £5-10 million a year. One source said: "We make our profit because we manage the risk."
An initial five-year renewable contract is envisaged.
Security is a priority, and all bidders claim to have systems to protect this although as one source admits: "You can never write a foolproof system."
Most of the companies have experience of running central government systems. Several are already heavily integrated into the Magistrates, Home Office, and UK and US police forces.