Lord Chancellor on the defensive

After a construtive pre-meeting we gathered to meet with Chris Grayling in Committee Room 17 . Sensibly we had agreed not to make the occasion a free for all but rather target questions and not to repeat points so for example a question about the effect of new contract and the losses it would bring to Yorkshire and other similar town practices was adavanced by Leeds Law Society on behalf of Leeds and South Yorkshire ( more of this later ) .

The Secretary of State gave his usual openng speech about how he had no alternative , that he was open to listen but he was not going to do a massive change of tack .

That there was no zero pain solution but he believed his proposals would not change quality and that the profession could re-organise itself quickly .

He confirmed they wanted a smaller number of organisations down for the 1600 delivering legal services . They were not tendering for the lowest common denominator but once the quality threshold was passed they would look to the best price .

He had asked the Bar Council and Law Society to help set the threshold for quality but if not he would use peer review .

Geographical Limits – points were made by Northumbria , Manchester , Isle of Wight and Devon/Cornwall ( strongest argument ) over how to service the contract which was unviable .

Repeated points were made over how smaller firms are already delivering value at lowest contract price and there is no more cloth to be cut

On behalf of a Manchester Larger Firm the point was made that the contract is unviable and that larger firms who would not get the volume they currently operate on and would not be able to obtain the finance and will not bid for the new contracts .

Similar points were made by smaller firms who reminded Chris Grayling that they will not get funding from their banks which would amount to considerable sums of money to bank roll the changes provided .

Leeds Law Society supported by South Yorkshire who shared the point addressed the issue of the costs of the new contracts and that indications were that firms would incur substantial losses in operating the contracts .

Chris Grayling seemed genuinely surprised that firms had to wait many months for payment which he said he was going to look into

There was considerable debate over Client choice and everyone universally pointed to the problems over this . Grayling indicated he still believed this was a way to guarantee volume and quality but they were looking at it further . His civil servant indicated it may be repeat offenders might be directed to the same firm but this does not deal with firms established clients .

He distanced himself from comments from Dominic Grieve in 2009 over BVT suggesting the AG wasn’t facing the current economic crisis then .

He kept pushing for us to give alternatives but we stuck to the fact that if he wants to engage he should withdraw this one sided consultation .

Overall it is clear more pressure is required he remains fixated on PCT and says he wants alternatives but is not prepared to engage where those savings might be found elsewhere .

Full minutes will be produced shortly no doubt but the Law Society achieved a well coordinated meeting in which people forwent some of the things they wanted to say to give a comprehensive view and a view in which he knew all attendees were representing all the solicitors in their town or county who were all opposed and regarded it as unworkable .

The challenge will be remaining solid but the views expressed tonight were effective , consistent and left The Lord Chancellor with no doubt of our combined views.

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