Post by Patrick Torsney on Oct 13, 2006 7:13:04 GMT
Question 1.1: “Do you have a particular interest in legal aid? If so what (e.g. practising lawyer)?”
1.1 Ask & Prosper is a group of professionals who have come together to identify and provide, under one banner, a range of essential services for the benefit of the UK advice sector. In particular, Ask & Prosper is aimed at forward thinking individuals who wish to succeed and promote themselves as leaders in challenging professional environments.
1.2 Patrick Torsney, Director of Ask & Prosper, currently provides consultancy and training services to organisations and individuals within both the Solicitor and Not-for-Profit sectors. He is also currently commissioned to act as Project Consultant to the CLS Support Project where he continues to write publications and provide specialist consultancy and support on issues such as developments in Not-for-Profit (NfP) contracting and the Preferred Supplier initiative. He is also responsible for writing and delivering the largest national training programme on Contracting and Quality Mark compliance in the UK.
1.3 The online forum ‘Legal Aid: have your say!’ was created by Patrick Torsney in response to the joint DCA/LSC consultation on the future of Legal Aid in order to provide a modern and accessible means of allowing individuals to get to grips with the proposals, express their views on them and share their thoughts and ideas.
1.4 At the time of writing the forum has over 245 registered users, from a wide range of organisations networks and bodies. We estimate that approximately four times this number also view the forum without registering. Pages on the forum have so far been viewed approximately 10,000 times since it went live on the web just over seven weeks ago.
1.5 From poll results the membership of the forum is as follows:
Advice Services Alliance: 2.5%
Citizens Advice: 44.1%
Law Centres Federation: 18.1%
Law Society: 1.2%
Private Practice: 6.4%
Shelter Cymru: 1.2%
1.6 The forum was created on a pro-bono basis and is entirely non-profit and accessible to anyone with web access.
1.7 The stated aims of the forum were to:
Raise awareness of what some of the key [consultation] proposals are likely to involve
Encourage the current debate in an open and sensible manner
Inform the current consultation process and the stakeholders involved
Provide summary style information on some of the key issues
Consider the next steps and move forward
Complement other sources of help and support
Question 5.1 (recommendations 3.1 and 5.1):
“Do you have any comments on Lord Carter’s proposals in Chapter 3 paragraph 43 and Chapter 5 paragraphs 11 to 29 for implementing a quality threshold for those who would like to undertake publicly funded work? Are there any impacts in particular that should be taken into account? If so please give reasons.”
3.1 The forum has only considered certain aspects of Peer Review and not addressed the other forms of measuring quality that have been proposed i.e. Quality Profiles and File Assessment; therefore the comments below refer to the proposals in respect of Peer Review only.
3.2 There have been no negative comments within the forum regarding the proposals for implementing a strict quality threshold in respect of those organisations undertaking publicly funded work.
3.3 Generally, we believe this to be because suppliers are already familiar with compliance with quality assurance mechanisms and quality control as contained within the Specialist Quality Mark (SQM) as a prerequisite to holding a contract, and therefore see improvements in quality as integral to the service that they provide to their client groups.
3.4 Further, we believe that suppliers would not object to more rigorous forms of assessing the actual quality of the services that they provide to clients where it is less invasive and produces data which is accurate and directly relevant to those services that are being provided; most particularly, in respect of an actual assessment of the quality of the work that they provide through a peer review of that work.
3.5 It appears logical to deduce that if there is no disagreement that quality of work is important, then there must be both some rigorous means of assessing it and some benchmark of what is an acceptable level of quality in that work.
3.6 From this, it would be nonsensical to say that what is and what is not an acceptable level of quality should not have some bearing on whether an organisation is able to provide publicly funded services. We have no objection then that the Commission proposes to set an entry criterion within Peer Review of a score of 1 or 2 in order to be included within the scheme.
3.7 We believe the Commission’s move away from its reliance on what is really a form of ‘risk’ monitoring – where quality of advice is determined against the level of compliance with proxies for good advice, as contained within the SQM – is positive.
Recommendation 5.1: “The Legal Services Commission, DCA and Law Society should agree an operational process and timetable by September 2006 for transfer of all quality assurance for solicitors by April 2009. The Legal Services Commission will need to be satisfied by the arrangements put in place for quality assurance by the Law Society before effecting a handover of responsibility.”
3.8 We believe the premise which Lord Carter asserts (page 96, point 20):
“…the responsibility for monitoring and assuring the quality of professional services should not lie with a procuring body, especially when that body is not the sole procurer”
is not fully explained and is inaccurate, to varying degrees, depending upon its relevance to other aspects of the consultation agenda e.g. Community Legal Advice Centre’s (CLACs) and Community Legal Advice Networks (CLANs).
3.9 We see no inherent contradiction, as Lord Carter presupposes, with a procuring body deciding upon and determining the level of quality it expects within those services it wishes to procure.
3.10 Therefore, we do not agree that there should be a transfer of quality assurance from the Commission to the Law Society when the only reason we can see for doing this is to better place and promote the Commission within future joint contracting and funding arrangements within CLACs and CLANs; any effects on suppliers – both Solicitor and NfP – of transferring the assessment of quality in the ways proposed have not been considered and this should have been the emphasis of this aspect of the proposals.
3.11 We also consider it entirely inappropriate for Lord Carter to then say that Not-for-Profit organisations that do not employ a solicitor:
“…will need to consider how best they fall under the new quality arrangements and whether they should develop their own advice standards (based on peer review).”
This is not in the spirit of ‘unifying’ the contracts and in keeping with a market based view to reform, only unless Lord Carter wishes to ‘hobble’ the NfP sector from the start within that market.
3.12 Apart from the strain that developing new ‘quality arrangements’ would put on the Not-for-Profit sector as a whole, the vagary of this proposal and its passing acknowledgment to the NfP sector suggests, to our mind, certain anachronisms within the opinions of influential commentators, for example: that legal advice is really the province of [current] Solicitor contract holders or at the very least, solicitors.
3.13 All suppliers – solicitor and NfP – must be assessed by the same quality standards in order for the Preferred Supplier scheme to have any real meaning and validity.
3.14 To do otherwise would open future decisions on procurement to criticism, and obscure any lessons that might be learnt by an organisation whose services were not procured.
3.15 The forum explicitly addressed the question of whether transfer of the monitoring of quality control from the Commission to the Law Society within an online poll open to registered users only.
3.16 The results of this poll were:
91.6% of respondents voted that it should stay with the Commission
8.3% voted that it should transfer to the Law Society
3.17 No-one elaborated further on the reason for their vote so we are unable to provide the views of those few who did agree with the proposal to transfer it.
3.18 In the explanation of “what this poll is about” we included aspects of the Advice Services Alliance (ASA) initial response to the consultation paper in respect of these proposals, so that users could more familiarise themselves with the issues.
3.19 In view of this we conclude that the significantly high proportion of voters who voted against the transfer may have been swayed by ASA’s argument.