Tag Archives: Helen grant

The Weakest Link

A dark TV studio. Contestants stand behind oval shaped podia, each of them fanned out at an equal distance from each other, the line of them curved around a central figure. A female dressed all in black. A smart trouser suit with a three quarter length jacket. A look of disdain on an unsmiling face.

The camera focuses on each contestant in turn. The man behind the first mini lectern smiles weakly for the camera, the make-up girl has not managed to entirely stop the studio light reflecting off his bald head. He speaks, “Hi Maura, my names Chris and I am the first non-lawyer to be Lord Chancellor.”

The camera immediately swoops to the next face. Another male. Older this time. More hair but not by much and silvery white. “I’m Tom. I am in the Lords and work in Justice. I have been at the heart of Government pretty much forever.”

The first female contestant is introduced. Smartly turned out in a business suit and a smile that says she is to be taken seriously. She looks directly in to the lens of the camera and says “My name is Helen, I used to be a Legal Aid solicitor but don’t let that put you off me.” The audience, quiet until now, titters at this little quip.

Fourth in the male dominated quintet introduces himself, “My name is Damian. I live in Ashford. I am married to a barrister but don’t let that put you off me.” The smile on his lips remains fixed as his joke passes in stony silence. The camera lingers for a moment, just long enough to make his discomfort palpable before focussing on the final contestant.

“My name is Harry, journalist, author and, before you go mentioning it Maura, member of the Bullingdon Club and distant relo to the PM himself.” Harry allows himself a smile, content that he has already taken the sting out the quizmaster’s infamous barbs.

The camera fixes on the host. “So, the contestants for the Weakest Link MoJ special are here. Who will last less time than Applied Language Solutions? Who has less brain cells than second homes? Who will tip the balance for the scales of justice? Lets see as we play……The Weakest Link.”

The studio lights dim further as Maura turns to face the contestants, dramatic music heightening the tension. The questions begin.

“Chris, who failed to deliver on the terms of their £284 million contract to provide security to the London Olympics?”

“Errr…. The army??” replies Chris.

“No, G4S. Tom, who lost the contract to run Wolds prison in the same year that an inspectorate report found ‘concerns about a number of issues, including the availability of drugs, a lack of staff confidence in confronting poor behaviour, weaknesses in the promotion of diversity and limited work and training provision’?”

Tom thinks for a moment. “The Prison Service.”

“No, G4S. Helen, who had to drop out of the contract process for tagging offenders when it was revealed they had been massively over-charging the public for services that had not been provided?”

“The answer must be the Prison Service.”

“Wrong. It’s G4S. Damian, which company is still being paid £1.2 billion to run HMP Altcourse, £1.5 billion to run HMP Parc and also pockets £175 million to provide facility services to the Court Service amongst many such contracts?”

A pained expression crosses Damian’s face, he shakes his head, “Sorry Maura. The answer is there but my minds gone blank.” He looks down at his little desk before him and sighs. “Pass.”

“Not surprisingly, G4S is the answer. Harry…..” Before the question can be started Harry enthusiastically shouts “Bank”. You can almost hear a weary tone in Maura’s voice as she continues, “Harry, which operatic vocal quartet came to prominence on the X-Factor?”

Quick as a flash Harry answers “G4S”. Just as he does the dramatic music returns to signal the end of the round. Maura tilts her head to one side, “Close Harry,” she says, “very close. The correct answer was G4.” She pivots once again to take in all five contestants. “Well team, that wasn’t very impressive. Not a single correct answer and, unlike G4S, not a single pound banked. So, who is more Judge Judy than Baroness Hale? Who is more Marshmallow than Marshall-Hall? It is time to find out as you vote off…..The Weakest Link.”

As the contestants begin to scribble with a plastic stylus on a screen a voice-over, with a hint of ashtray about the voice, chimes in, “Statistically in that round Harry was the weakest link as he tried to bank when there was no money. And as no one else got a single question right the others all tied as the strongest link in that round.”

“Right, time to reveal who you think is the weakest link” Maura tells them with that clipped manner of the school teacher.

In the next 30 seconds each of the first four contestant press a button to reveal a single name written as by a child on an Etch-a-Sketch. Simultaneously each of them declare “Harry”. At the end of the crescent a somewhat forlorn looking Harry reveals Helen as his weakest link.

Maura addresses Damian, “So Damian, clearly nobody leaked the questions to you did they?” Again Damian looks uncomfortable, “No Maura.”

“It can’t have been the pressure of TV, what with you having been a journalist before entering politics, so what made your brain freeze?”

“Well, you see, there are just so many big corporations these days running different aspects of the criminal justice system sometimes it is a bit difficult to keep up with who is doing what,” Damian splutters.

“I see. Not difficult to see how they get away with ripping the public off then is it?”. Not one of the contestants will meet Maura’s eye as she speaks.

“Harry….”

Harry clears his throat, “Yes, Maura.”

“Why did you vote for Helen?”

“Well, Maura, she gave an obvious wrong answer. Anyone in the know would realise we don’t sell…..errr….outsource the running of the prisons to the prison service because that would be insourcing and no one as ever heard of that so…she….was clearly a weak…..I mean….the weakest link.”

“I know Harry, but you got your question wrong as well as shouting ‘bank’ when there was nothing to bank…..” Maura says with a touch of something bordering pity in her voice.

“That was force of habit. The boys in the Bullingdon are forever playing bank when there’s no money to be had so it just popped out,” laments Harry.

“Harry, you are the weakest link…..goodbye“. And with that icy send off, Harry departs the scene, head bowed. Maura turns to the remaining four, “you survive. Well let’s see who is about to be moved to Fisheries? Let us learn who is destined for higher office and who is packing their bags for Northern Ireland as we play……The Weakest Link!”

“As none of you managed a single correct answer in the last round we will start with Chris again…..Chris if the Ministry want a Legal Aid budget of less than £1billion by 2014 how much does it have to save from Criminal Legal Aid?”

A look of confidence flashes across Chris’s face, “20%” he declares in what he believes is an authoritative way.

“Wrong,” replies the host, “the correct answer is ‘not one penny’. Tom, beginning with ‘U’ what describes a proposal that removes the rights of prisoners to bring actions against the State, bars people from receiving funding because of where they were born and simultaneously makes the whole process of Judicial Review harder and more expensive?”

“Hang on a minute, it wasn’t me that this began with,” Tom complains, “it was all Chris’s idea. He was the one….” Maura inerrupts, “Steady on Tom, I didn’t say ‘you’, I said ‘U’…..as in the letter, which word beginning with the letter ‘U’ describes the proposal to limit the individual’s ability to challenge the Government?”

“Oh I see, gotcha, right…Which word…” Tom mumbles to himself, “beginning with ‘U’…..stops Judicial Review….. Got it Maura,” Tom beams as he speaks clearly now, “Useful. Such a proposal is ‘useful’!”

“The answer I was looking for was ‘unconstitutional’.” Maura turns to Helen, “Helen, which South London firm of solicitors was paid £200,000 in Legal Aid after your appointment to the Ministry?”

“Mine!” Helen immediately answers. “Or rather my husband’s….”

“It’s not the answer we have here, that says Grants Solicitors…..but I am being told in my ear we can accept that. Damian, your question, who decides whether the Prosecution should appeal a sentence as unduly lenient?”

“The P-prrrime-Minister,” stammers Damian, “no, wait, the press….nope, hang on….both.”

“Wrong. Again. It’s the Attorney-General,” Maura is interrupted by the dramatic music, “and that’s your lot for this round. So who is the Cambodian defendant with a Mandarin interpreter? Who is a level 1 advocate “acting up” in a level 3 trial of issue? Who is more My Lacklustre than My Learned Friend?”

As the competitors turn their attentions to scribbling their betrayals the voiceover reminds us that Helen, being the only person to answer a question correctly all evening is the strongest link, whilst the three men are equally weak as each other.

Maura looks at the players with increasing disdain, “Who is going getting the go direct to jail card? Who is having their licence revoked? Lets reveal, the Weakest Link.”

Moments later the three male contestants are stood behind their electronic scrawl nominating Helen whilst Helen herself glowers behind her vote for Damian.

“Chris, you haven’t answered a single question correctly all night. It’s almost as if you would be better avoiding the questions if you have no answers. Why Helen?” asks Maura.

“If you have a team of people working at the same level sometimes you just have to say ‘Sorry Guys, this has been a difficult conversation but we are all in it together, it’s just that one of you guys has now gotta be on the outside in the cold, in it with us, in here.’ And that person has to be Helen. Which I am sure she understands.”

The look on Maura’s face tells us she barely understands a word and Helen certainly seems scarcely comforted as she departs the studio floor.

“And then there were three. Is it three wise men or three men in a boat without a paddle and without a clue? Does MoJ stand for Ministry of Justice or Ministry of Jokers? Starting with you Chris…. which member of the cabinet takes an oath to ‘respect the rule of law, defend the independence of the judiciary and discharge my duty to ensure the provision of resources for the efficient and effective support of the courts for which I am responsible.’?”

For a moment Chris looks stunned, “Me. That’s me!”

CORRECT. Now Tom, which politician, who has not succeeded in an election since 1979, is doing everything he can to make sure the Lord Chancellor does not fulfil his oath?”

“That’ll be me,” cries Tom.

“A miracle. Yes, that’s correct. Now Damian, which is more expensive, the Crown Court or the magistrates?”

“Easy,” claims Damian, “the Crown Court.”

“Right again. Lets keep moving. Chris, statistically which type of sentence is more likely to cut re-offending? A short custodial sentence or supervision by the Probation Service?

“Don’t tell anyone but its Probation,” Chris says, wistfully.

“Wonders never cease, that’s correct. Tom, how often do magistrates commit cases to the Crown Court where the Judge then imposes a sentence less than the maximum available in the Mags?”

“40% of the time,” answers a now cocky Tom.

“What a run. Correct. Now Damian, where should the more complex and serious criminal cases be heard?”

“Too easy, the Mags,” crows Damian.

The dramatic music cues the end of the round. Maura looks visibly drained as she tells Damian, “With that wrong answer you ended the round with no money banked. So which of you is destined for the woolsack and which of you is getting the sack?” And now Maura pauses and looks at her cue cards of acerbic wit. She looks back at the three most senior people in the Ministry. “You know, none of you are the weakest link. Because you are all a shower of shite,” she begins to remove her earpiece and turns to walk away. She glances back at the stunned contestants and continues, “Not one of you has a clue what you are talking about. Not a clue.” As she walks off stage she can be heard saying “Get my agent on the phone. Hook me up with Ant and Dec. If these three are in charge I am beginning to think I am ready for I’m A Barrister, Get Me Out Of Here. Eating a kangaroo testicle has to be better than this…..”

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