Firms agonise over pitching as NHS squeezes panel rates

Low partner rates have emerged as a key issue in a panel review for one of the NHS’s largest consortia covering London and the Midlands.

Submissions for Health-Trust Europe’s London ­Procurement Programme, which will provide legal services to around 60 NHS trusts across London, the West Midlands and parts of southern England, closed on 22 July. The value of work generated for the new roster is expected to reach around £20m.

The framework currently includes 12 panels, with a minimum of five firms on each, covering contract and commercial law; copyright and IP; corporate finance and PFI/PPP; education; employment; environmental law; healthcare law; international law; IT and telecommunications; ­mental health law; NHS governance; primary care services; property; public law and governance law; social care law; tax; and other law.

Current advisers include Beachcroft, Bevan Brittan, Browne Jacobson, ­Capsticks, DLA Piper, ­Eversheds, Hempsons, Hill Dickinson, Mills & Reeve and Weightmans.

Partners close to the review have tipped the size of the panel to shrink, with the low partner rates being requested already leading some firms to withdraw from the process.

While one partner described it as “a game of brinkmanship”, another source commented: “They’re using classic procurement tactics to encourage low pricing, so the question is where you price yourself to get onto this panel and still keep the work profitable.”

The rates battle follows news that several firms are considering withdrawing from a review of the Metropolitan Police’s panel of legal advisers after the Met requested partner rates of just £130 an hour (The Lawyer, 18 July).