The Lord’s Finger

The famed Boardroom. In the middle sits Lord Sugar. To his right is Alan Beith and to his left Maura McGowan QC. The door opens and in walk the three contestants who have been brought back in to the Boardroom following this week’s task “Transforming Legal Aid”.

Lord Sugar Right you three sit down. This is the second task in a row that Team MoJ have failed and I am sick of the bloody sight of you lot. So come on then Chris, you were project manager, why wasn’t this all your fault?

Chris Grayling Well Lord Sugar, as project manager the most important role is to delegate responsibility and you’ll notice that a lot of the actual presentation was done by McNally because he said he had the skills to bring this home and I trusted him.

Lord McNally Hid behind me more like.

Lord Sugar But you did do all the talking didn’t you McNally?

LM That’s Lord McNally actually.

LS There is only room for one bleedin’ Lord around here and that’s me. At least Chris has learnt to ignore the whole Lord Chancellor thing. So, McNally, you did most of the talking so why shouldn’t you get fired?

LM That was only presentational stuff. The ideas were all from Chris and they were pretty poor. Despite my best efforts and skills I couldn’t really defend them once people thought about them.

LS Yes but you are an awkward character McNally. I am sorry to say that but you are. It seems you can’t help yourself, you need confrontation. And that worries me, that worries me a lot. You picked a right old fight with the judiciary and the lawyers.

LM Once they had seen the proposals and found them out, we had to go on the attack. They were crap ideas and they knew it. Our only hope was to persuade everyone that it was their response which was wrong.

Chris Grayling I didn’t tell you to call them hysterical….

LM No, but you were the one who said the public were too thick to pick…

CG I said they weren’t connoisseurs. You were the one who described the lawyers at working at the lower end of the profession…

LM And, so, well, you were the one…

Lord Sugar Shut up. Both of you. You two know more bullshit that an ad agency could ever learn. Now Helen, you are sitting there all quiet at the moment.

Helen Grant Yes Lord Sugar.

LS Sat there nodding along as these two blame each other, if you nod any more I’m going to put you in the back of my bloody car.

HG Sorry Lord Sugar.

LS Don’t be sorry. I want you to improve, not just say you’re sorry all the time. And last week’s task “Contracting the Terps” was not your finest hour.

HG It wasn’t that bad.

LS Not that bad?!? It was a bloody disaster. You had Chinese interpreters turning up for Vietnamese speakers, Latvian terps giving bloody legal advice and trials going wrong left right and centre often because you could not even get someone there. If that wasn’t bad you probably think the Wall Street Crash was just a blip.

HG In the first and second quarters of 2012 there were only problems in 0.4% of cases in the magistrates….

LS Can I just stop you there? Alan, what were the overall figures?

Alan Beith Well the contract required a 98% fulfilment rate and the actual success rate hovered at 90% or less.

Helen Grant But we saved £15 million…

AB Without taking in to account the cost by delays, the cost to the administration of having to fill the gaps where no or inadequate translation services were provided and the cost of bolstering the provision of services in the future it is impossible to say that there has been any real savings.

HG We built in to the project the fact that the provider would have to make up in terms of finance for their deficiencies.

Lord Sugar Is that right Alan?

AB The latest figures show that the provider has paid £1,100 in penalty clauses.

LS On a contract worth?

AB £90 million.

LS So what we ended up with was paying a bit less to a third party who would then go on to make payments to the people who were already providing us with their services.

HG Not exactly Lord Sugar.

LS Why not?

HG Well, now we pay less overall and we have a middleman taking a cut, the amount that the people actually providing the skills get paid had to take a huge reduction. So most of the translators who were doing this type of work stopped.

LS So your idea of success is paying less for a contract that often did not do the basic requirement of getting interpreters there and stopped a high proportion of the skilled people in the sector providing their skills any more?

HG I think, Lord Sugar, you need to look at the whole process and see what we set out to achieve and how we went about it before saying whether it was a success or not.

LS Alan, you had the best view of all this. What did you think?

Alan Beith Well it might almost have been constructed as a cautionary tale of what a team should avoid in undertaking a procurement process and contract management process. And this is a team that wants to undertake several such tasks, some of them much larger even than this one, so some lessons have got be learnt pretty quickly.

LS I don’t know why you two are sat there smirking like a couple of errant schoolboys. Did you learn those lessons?

Lord McNally We used different implementation teams and strategies so the cross harmonisation and pollination of thematic principles between the two tasks was not a direct linear progression of received learning and shared experience from one to the other.

LS Stripping away all the BS that’s a “no” then. You just went and made the same mistakes again.

Chris Grayling I always say if you are going to be a bear, be a grizzly. And I am King Grizzle.

LS You’re talking Chris. I can hear the words. But you are not making any sense.

CG What I am saying is that I am a reformer. And reformers need to get on and reform and not worry about history.

LS In America, everybody thinks they’re an entrepreneur. That’s the problem, it’s not a title anyone should call themself. You say you are a reformer, what are you trying to reform?

CG The Legal Aid industry.

LS You keep saying this but what does it mean? Are you trying to reform the criminal justice system?

CG Yes. As in the criminal justice system industry.

LS And what do you know about the “criminal justice system industry”? I mean I didn’t leap out of bed one day and suddenly decide “right I am going to start my business”, I worked for several years first and gained experience in a trade.

CG And so have I. In television.

LS How could you possibly have hoped to have got this right then?

CG I have two ears and a mouth and I use them in that ratio.

LS Look that crap may have made sense in the world of television executives but it doesn’t cut it in here.

CG I may not be a lawyer but I organised a consultation so I could listen to what they said and then repeat that I wanted to save money and did what a load of non-lawyers told me I had to do.

LS So you ignored the experts.

CG I listened to people who told me there was a credibility issue with Legal Aid and went about reforming that in the task. Legal Aid was out of control. I had to stop it spiralling. It was the most expensive system in the universe. A handful of cases were taking up the lion share of the budget. Criminals were getting criminal Legal Aid destined for innocent people. I understood enough of that to use all my skills to embark upon Transforming Legal Aid.

LS You may be good with words and spin and know the right thing to say at the right time but I know all the words to Candle in the Wind. It don’t make me Elton John.

CG But at £2 billion I had to take the system apart to make savings.

LS Well let’s see about that. Maura, what were the figures?

Maura McGowan Team MOJ stated they wanted to save £220 million from a spend of £1.2 billion….

CG And who wouldn’t want to, thank you Maura for your support.

LS Shut up Chris. Use your ears. Go on Maura, what else can you tell us?

MM The actual Legal Aid spend was down 11.3% to £975 million in crime last year.

CG I wanted even more success than that! We needed to crackdown on those really big cases that feed the really fat cat lawyers.

MM The spend on the very high cost cases fell 26% by £68 million in that time.

CG In that market place we need restructuring. The market needed to become leaner.

MM There as a 12% fall in the number of providers of criminal representation.

Lord McNally Can I just interrupt here? We did manage to scrap the Legal Services Commission and make it in to the Legal Aid Agency. Real success. I like to think that was down to my championing of LASPO and had little to do with Grayling here.

CG Judas!

Lord Sugar Is that right Maura?

MM It is right that it was closed down. Unfortunately it was closed down in the year it had finally got round to improving the speed of payments and when it was able to produce its first accurate accounts for five years. And the cost of closing down something which was beginning to work? £28 million.

LS So Chris, in the chase to make all these savings that you were already pocketing what else did you achieve? It’s not all about money. How about quality? How about service?

Chris Grayling There were big transformations in service and quality. Huge alterations. Massive shifts from where we were before. Isn’t that right McNally?

Lord McNally Absolutely. Quality was off the graph. A seismic change in the legal landscape. Barely recognisable from how it was before.

LS How did you set about improving quality?

LM We didn’t.

CG It went down.

LM Which thanks to our strategic planning, we always knew it would. Something we were rightly proud of before became almost perfectly acceptable. Men and women like us, Lord Sugar, are putting the adequate back in Great Britain.

Lord Sugar You remind me of the final scene in the Wizard of Oz. You look very impressive, but in my opinion, behind the curtains there’s nothing there.

LM Thank you Lord Sugar.

LS It wasn’t a bleeding compliment! If I have got this right you took apart an entire system to produce savings that it looked like you were already achieving and all the time knowing that you were putting the quality at the heart of the enterprise at real risk, having learnt nothing from your last cock-up. Have you heard the expression “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”?

Helen Grant That’s exactly what I tried to warn them about Lord Sugar.

LS When? I didn’t hear it.

HG I said it very quietly to myself, when the cameras weren’t there.

LS Helen, you didn’t warn them. I tell you who did. Other members of team MoJ. Dominic told them. He warned them it was a mistake. Tony, Tony Hooper, he warned them they were destroying years of quality representation. That Neuberger chap told them it was a road to disaster. But what should he know? But these two, these two knew best and Helen, you just sat there still trying to pretend you hadn’t contributed to the fiasco. This isn’t just throwing the baby out with the bath water. This is throwing the bath out, the toilet and the rest of the plumbing leaving us only a bucket to pee in….

Chris Grayling Lord Sugar, can I just say….

Lord Sugar No you bloody can’t. Time for you to listen. Helen, you came up with a daft scheme that went wrong from the start. Would you listen? No. McNally you wanted the glory but as soon as the going got tough your idea of a negotiation was to call everyone names. Chris, you were responsible for both these schemes, neither of them better than harebrained and both doomed to fail. Chris if I have listened to anything you have said it is about changing things. Now the three of you don’t know much about loyalty. Helen, you joined the Labour Party and became a Conservative. Chris, you were a Social Democrat at university who became a Tory. And when it comes to you McNally, you’ve flipped around so much that I bet if you drove though Wales you’d join Plaid Cymru. So let me teach you a bit about sticking together…McNally…Helen…Chris…(points finger)…you are ALL fired.

Despite there being a debate in Parliament today, Grayling ducked it again. Don’t let it continue. Force him in to the House to debate this issue by signing here

9 thoughts on “The Lord’s Finger

  1. bryan langton

    Legal Aid Reform it matters to you we all may legal aid and it should stay as it is now. join and support no to pct on the gov website


  2. Pingback: Save UK justice: the blogs | ilegality

  3. Pingback: The Lord's Finger | Legal interpreting |

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