Court unions accuse LCD of confidential tendering projects

COURT staff unions are stepping up resistance to the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) after learning that the Lord Chancellor's Department (LCD) is to tender work out to the private sector on 11 capital expenditure projects valued at a total of £172 million.

The unions claim six of the projects, with a total value of £83 million, are classified as “confidential”, and thereby confirm fears over accountability and commercial secrecy.

While Court Service headquarters staff are still on strike over the controversial £60 million outsourcing of the court's information technology, the unions will now take their concerns up with government finance watchdog, the National Audit Office.

A union executive at the 165,000-strong Public Services, Tax and Commerce Union (PTC) blasted the “political decision” to proliferate PFI throughout government departments.

He said: “Our main concern is lack of openness. We will be using political pressure to open up the contracting procedure. We will seek to raise the issues with the NAO and the Comptrollor and Auditor General.”

Only some details of the LCD PFI projects, originating from the Treasury's Private Finance Panel, could be verified by the LCD last week.

“I certainly don't know what the confidential projects are,” said a spokeswoman, who rejected union accusations of secrecy by the LCD.

The 11 projects include the £60 million Court Service IT project, already the subject of industrial action and politically controversial. A contract will be awarded this summer.

A £5 million contract to run ARAMIS, the LCD and Court Service accounting system, will be tendered out later this month, the LCD confirmed.

A £15 million contract to build a Family Hearing Court in Sheffield and a £1 million project to enhance the Legal Aid Management Information System (LAMIS) are also in the pipeline.

And with £8 million worth of projects with the Public Records Office, that leaves £83 million for the six “confidential projects”.