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ONLY one bidder has been left in the Lord Chancellor's Department's (LCD's), "competitive" tendering process to supply a computer system for the Magistrates' Court Service.
Two companies were due to put in their bids by 27 May for the project - a private finance initiative to provide a national system known as Libra which will link magistrates' courts with police, prisons, and the probation service.
But US company Electronic Data Systems (EDS) decided not to put in a bid last month, and is refusing to comment on its reasons for pulling out so close to the deadline.
This leaves sole bidder Courts 2000, a consortium of Unisys and ICL computer companies, competing for the contract. However, the LCD has now decided to continue the tendering process using a "hypothetical public sector bid" instead of EDS as the bidding rival for Courts 2000.
The Association of Magisterial Officers has denounced the hypothetical bid as a "farce" and called on the Government to "call a halt to this ludicrous exercise and provide the necessary public funding to allow magistrates' courts to get on with the job with decent up-to-date equipment".
AMO general secretary Rosie Eagleson said: "Any pretence that public private partnership is about competition and improving value for money is now completely exposed as a fraud."
AMO executive officer and Gloucestershire Magistrates' Court IT manager Graham Watt slated the LCD for giving out "no information" about the project.
The LCD aims to implement Libra on a rolling programme to all magistrates' courts starting in 2001. It will replace a project known as MASS which began in the late 1980s but was never properly implemented.
The main IT systems in magistrates' courts are currently provided by ICL, Unisys and STL Technologies.