Tag Archives: Alan Beith

A Third Letter to Lord McNally

Dear T-Mac (I have decided you are now worthy of a soubriquet which is down with the kids, feel free to reply to Biggie-G),

So much water has passed under the bridge since last I wrote. Things have gone so Peter Tong (as the kids say) since our last interaction I am not in the least surprised that you have not had the time to respond. And I should imagine that you are spending so much time reviewing who should remain in your Linked-In profile that I can understand that you have not yet had the opportunity of adding me to your network.

I should imagine one easy choice was pressing the “delete” option for that turncoat Grayling. Such a quisling. It would seem that in the last 7 days he has been everywhere, and I mean EVERYWHERE, declaring that he isn’t anti-choice after all. And not only has he been saying he isn’t anti choice he has been saying that he wasn’t ideologically bound to a removal of choice. It was, apparently, only a means to an end. And, furthermore, he realised very soon in to the consultation process that he had got the whole choice thing wrong and that his instinct told him that it was wrong. It is just a pity his instinct didn’t share that with you. Or that other pedagogue of jurisprudence, Bob Neill.

If, for one moment, the Lord Chancellor had shared with you his doubts about restricting choice there is no way you would have, and pardon the expression, bared your arse on Law in Action with “No To Choice” tattooed across your buttocks.

When you appeared as part of the Bar Council’s Legal Aid Question Time you made it clear where your beliefs lie “The idea that a 20 year career criminal should have a brief of his choice is not right.” That was a plain and unequivocal statement of your belief. You state categorically that it is not right.

So when Chris Grayling wrote to Sir Alan Beith and said “One specific point in the consultation which has attracted significant response is the proposal to remove client choice in the model for competition for criminal litigation. The rationale for proposing this change was to give greater certainty of case volume for provides, making it easier and more predictable for them to organise their business to provide the most cost-effective service to the taxpayer – it is not a policy objective in its own right,” that could not be a clearer statement in contradiction to your beliefs.

What a pickle you find yourself in. It would seem the Lord Chancellor changed his mind very early on in the life of the consultation that your view on client choice was contrary to a fundamental aspect of the effective administration of the Legal Aid system. The consultation closed on 4th June and yet on the 11th June (Law in Action) and the 20th June (Legal Aid Question Time) you were expressing your deeply held principles about how wrong client choice truly is. So how early was the change of heart by the Lord Chancellor? One week? Two weeks? If he announces it in a letter dated 1st July then you would have thought he had made his mind up well before you were announcing your, clearly independent, view.

If we are left in any doubt when he appeared before the Justice Committee and said “I actually decided this a little while back, but you cannot make changes in mid-consultation. I had to go through the process of allowing the consultation to be completed, and looking at some of the responses to make sure that I got it right. It would have been irresponsible of me, and probably illegal, simply to take a decision without considering the issue, but I accelerated consideration of that issue post the end of the consultation, because my instinct was that it was the right thing to do.” he makes it clear he doubted the removal of choice before 4th June but just needed to double check before declaring removing client choice was wrong.

If we are to believe the Lord Chancellor then two things arise. Firstly he did not change his mind shortly before his appearance before the Justice Select Committee simply to avoid the embarrassment of having to defend this position but because he realised very early on that denying defendants choice in their legal representation was wrong. Why did he not share this with you? If he had simply been faced with the prospect of an uncomfortable time before the Committee and changed his mind because of this that would be a very feeble u-turn.

Secondly this had not been a statement of principle by him. He was not denying defendants their free choice as a result of an ideological belief that it was wrong. He was not doing it because that was one of the elements of the Legal Aid system that caused the public to doubt its credibility. Denying client choice was not, in itself, something he thought right, it was a sacrifice he was making as a favour to lawyers in order to trade off the cuts for certainty of volume. Compare and contrast this with his recently stated views on the availability of Legal Aid for prisoners.

All of this leads us to one conclusion. He has to go. Well, it has to be either you or him. I know friends are supposed to be able to disagree from time to time. But you are not friends. You’re in Government together. You are bound by collective cabinet responsibility. You have publicly advanced removing client choice as a cause, as being in the public interest. Turns out that was never the case. You still went on to beat that drum after the Lord Chancellor was working with those he trusted to abandon that proposal.

So I am excited by the prospect of your resignation and move to bring a motion of no confidence in the Lord Chancellor. I know you are a man of beliefs. And I don’t mean by that you are a man capable of holding a multiplicity of beliefs. All that changing of political parties must have been because each time you decide on matters of principle you stick to them. So given that both the Deputy Prime Minster AND the Lord Chancellor are opposed to your view I guess another change in party membership is due. UKIP perhaps? Monster Raving Loonies?

I know some lawyers compare his dome-headed, cold-eyed appearance to Lord Voldemort but in this instance perhaps true believers like you, Bob and I should start referring to him as Lord Volte-face, or He-Who-Should-Be-Ashamed. I tell you something else, the Prisoner of Azkaban did not get Legal Aid to complain about the softness of his mattress and nor should the Plumber of Azerbaijan if he hasn’t been here twelve months (if you can’t keep up you either haven’t read enough JK Rowling, a single mum but otherwise really quite acceptable, or you haven’t read the consultation). He performed a u-turn, now is the time for you to send him round the u-bend!

I pledge my support to the cause. I reckon the way forward is an e-petition, some badges and dressing Bob Neill up as a badged badger. All proclaiming your “No to Choice” mantra. We will win. We must win. Our cause is right and just.

Yours, as ever, and with increasing affection,

The Gardener.

PS Successive Home Secretaries spent £1.8 million on the legal fight to deport Abu Qatada then achieved it through diplomatic and political means. It really is terrible when clients run litigation isn’t it?

PPS In your motion of no confidence you might want to ask the Lord Chancellor how he is going to deliver PTC without removing choice? And how is he going to make his cuts without guaranteeing volume? And how does he guarantee volume without removing choice?

For a look inside the mind of Lord Volte-face read my Iolanthe blogs. You can also read the first letter and the second letter to our hero.

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