‘Collaborative service planning’ is the term used to describe the ways that legal assistance providers coordinate their efforts to maximise services to clients and communities. It is intended to avoid unnecessary duplication and to help services use their limited resources in the most efficient and effective ways.
The current national Partnerships Agreement on Legal Assistance Services (known as the NPA) requires the states to engage in collaborative service planning. The 2018 Review of the NPA found that progress in this area around the country has been patchy. The Review observes that while there have been some positive developments in NSW, for example, the NSW Legal Assistance Forum (NLAF), there has been inadequate progress across all jurisdictions. This is certainly the view of Community Legal Centres NSW.
The collaborative service planning process has been revitalised in NSW. It is being overseen by a working group that includes Legal Aid NSW, Community Legal Centres NSW, the Aboriginal Legal Service, the Department of Justice, the Law and Justice Foundation, LawAccess and other relevant stakeholders. The working group is operating as a sub-committee of NLAF, and its work involves two key elements.
1. Legal needs analyses based on areas or catchments
Dividing up the state into sensible catchments is an incredibly difficult task. Government departments have, to date, been unable to agree on a carve up. Different departments use different catchments. Local health districts differ from local police area commands, and from LGAs and court circuits etc.
NSW is engaged in a process of trying to divide the state into catchments that make sense locally. NLAF has circulated a report which includes possible catchments for NSW, which you can view here.
Community Legal Centres NSW has provided feedback on this proposal, which can be read here.
Once catchments have been settled, it is assumed that ‘legal needs data’ (that is, information on the kinds of legal assistance most needed by a population) will be provided in relation to each of these catchments. If the state government decides to conduct tenders for community legal centre services in the future, it is possible that a tender will be shaped around these new catchments. For example, centres may be asked to tender to provide services to a particular catchment. Alternatively, the government could allocate specific amounts to each catchment.
2. Data sharing across legal assistance providers
The working group is looking at ways that service data can be shared between partners to give a clearer picture of legal servicing across the state. There has been agreement that this process should not involve any additional data collection; it will be more a case of sharing information that is already being collected. It is likely that the Law and Justice Foundation will coordinate this data collection.