Vera Baird – 2001 Maiden Speech

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Vera Baird in the House of Commons on 9 July 2001.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech to the House.

We are debating a topic of considerable public interest. I say that in particular because the first parliamentary correspondence that I opened when I arrived here four weeks ago was a letter from the Redcar branch of Campaign Against Arms Trade bemoaning the failure to pass such a Bill in the previous Session and asking whether I would support its introduction.

The second letter that I opened four weeks ago was from the Redcar branch of Campaign Against Arms Trade bemoaning the fact that no such Bill had been passed in the previous Session and asking whether I would support its introduction.

The third letter that I opened as a new Member of Parliament was from the Redcar branch of Campaign Against Arms Trade. And so on. I replied to all 34 letters, saying that I would support the introduction of such a measure and that, furthermore, I would write to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to commend the Bill to her. So I sent the letters on to her. We are all very pleased to see the Bill, but I think this is an unpromising first step towards the eventual publication of my collected parliamentary correspondence.

My distinguished predecessor is said to be about to publish. As to that, I cannot say; but I do know that the right hon. Dr. Marjorie Mowlam—my distinguished predecessor—has earned, and will keep, what can only be described as the affectionate veneration of the people of Redcar. I suspect that she will also long retain the admiration of the House. In Redcar, she has helped countless people. On the doorstep, stories of Mo’s good deeds were legion—and she did them, famously, always remembering an individual’s name, and treating that individual as a friend.

Mo did so much for the place. Legendary is the occasion on which the biggest retailer for our new town centre might have pulled out. Mo left her Whitehall office. Mo strode down the street. Mo entered the developers’ office and told them, in what I believe was a quite straightforward way, what they had better do. The supermarket, happily, was re-engaged.

Mo’s well known warmth, her openness and her lack of pretension undoubtedly played a great part in all that she did, but, centrally, she was a great shadow Minister, a great Minister and a stateswoman, because she is a formidable intelligence. She will go on to a different career; I know that the whole House, together with the people of Redcar, will wish her good health, success and satisfaction in that new career.

Redcar was fortunate in having Mo as its Member of Parliament, and now I am its lucky representative. The constituency’s western boundary is the River Tees, which, although it is an industrial artery for much of its old age, is pure enough at its mouth for seals to play around the lighthouse at the tip of the breakwater. There is usually a chain of massive ships anchored off, until the pilot cutter can come to guide them through the narrow channel into Teesmouth, the second busiest port in the United Kingdom.

I pause to indicate what a debt of gratitude hon. Members and the public owe to Customs officers who serve at Teesport, for it was they who, on 10 April 1990, detained eight large steel tubes which they believed might require an export licence and which were, in fact, the components of the Iraqi supergun. There can be no doubt that, but for their vigilance, serious military consequences could have followed. I believe that those diligent officers—who, in many senses, have brought about this Bill—will welcome its introduction.

A mile from the estuary where the officers work, down a duney coast, is the seaside town of Redcar itself, set on miles of golden sand. Fish and chips, amusements, buckets and spades and bracing walks along the esplanade summarise its principal attractions. Until 1872, the beach was used for horse racing; then they built our famous Redcar race course. It is in the middle of the town, and race days fill the streets with a carnival atmosphere.

Four miles away is Marske, an ancient fishing village, now a pleasant residential area. Inland lies the leafy Domesday book village of Kirkleatham, with its newly renovated Sir William Turner almshouses. Inland, also, is Dormanstown, built in 1917 as a garden city for the steelworkers of Dorman Long. It is green and it is spacious, but it now suffers from the inner-urban deprivation that is all too often the concomitant of a damaged industrial base, and to which I must later return.

Within a tiny distance of pretty Kirkleatham lies, rather less prettily, the Wilton International chemical site. It is a major manufacturing location for petrochemicals, polymers and fibre intermediaries, and is one of three complexes on Teesside that, together, make up the United Kingdom’s largest cluster of chemical manufacturers. Currently, they directly employ 11,000 people; indirectly they employ 25,000 more; and they contribute an annual cash turnover that sustains many more thousands of jobs.

There is one matter about the complex that I hope to pursue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—namely, that it is imperative to our Teesside economy that she support as actively as possible proposed new investment in the complex. That is particularly so since the complex is in cluster formation, with plant linked with plant, and some components of some chains are now approaching the end of their viable life.

The Tees has a proud history of shipbuilding and repair. In April, however, Cammell Laird went into receivership. The next day, 110 workers at the South Bank yard in my constituency were told, “Pack up and go.” The yard, which used to be called Smiths dock, is a byword in the north-east for the highest skills and craftsmanship. It was a shattering blow, dealt in an unacceptable manner. The council, regional agencies and I are doing everything that we can to support the efforts of a respected local business man to restart the yard, to run it on its own as a viable local enterprise.

Between Redcar and the river is the mighty Cones Teesside steelworks. In the same week in April as the shipyard went down, the closure of the Lackenby coil plate mill was confirmed. In all, 1,100 jobs are to be lost in a work force who have improved productivity year after year. They, too, were treated with scandalous disregard. Both of those body blows to the traditions, morale and economy of my constituency have made it plain to me that it is unacceptable that such restructuring and cutting should be lawful without any reference to loyal employees. Those of my constituents who have suffered thus join me in giving a strong welcome to the directive on information and consultation rights for employees.

Travelling west in the constituency, one comes to Eston, at the foot of the Eston hills, where the iron ore that gave Teesside that industry was found. The first blast furnace was built in 1851, after which the area produced one third of the country’s output, with nearby South Bank and Grangetown two of its proud industrial producers.

Now, Grangetown has a 14.6 per cent. unemployment rate, which is about four and a half times the national average. With South Bank, it suffers according to every index from critical social deprivation. I need not list its characteristics, as they are all too familiar to hon. Members whose regional constituencies were, like mine, neglected to the point of abandonment by the previous, Conservative, Government. Those hard-hit communities house what that Government called an underclass, but what I see, and what I believe the Government recognise, are families who want nothing more than to work, earn a living, educate their children and live in dignity and safety.

Although the figures all remain high, critical ones such as youth unemployment, nursery provision and five A to C GCSE scores in schools are much improved in the past three years. Such communities welcome the Government’s certainty that regional economies must be made to flourish if the national economy as a whole is to grow still stronger. We applaud the Government’s resolution to apply substantial regeneration resources on a regional basis to poor areas such as these.

The constituency could therefore be described as going from Redcar rock to many a struggling industrial hard place. The Redcar people are positive, however. That can be seen by the fact that, despite a heavy industrial culture, which usually reinforces traditional polarised gender roles, they have elected two successive women Members of Parliament. I do not know what comment to make about the fact that they have now elected their first lawyer, but I do know a lot of jokes about lawyers.

My two roles merge when I welcome the Bill to encourage women further into democratic life. It is a far from straightforward legislative drafting task, and one that I urge be carried out in time to legislate this Session. Local authority elections for, among others, Redcar and Cleveland council, are but a short time away. We intend, in our new party women’s forum, to set up a system of prospective councillor candidates, so that those who are selected to stand can get involved early in their wards’ affairs. It is essential, if we are to build on the confidence that my electors have shown in women, quickly to have available to us weapons to use against any reactionary backlash.

As a criminal lawyer, I am interested in issues of crime control, access to justice, the courts and criminal sentencing. Sadly, the communities that I have described in my constituency have high crime rates and seemingly intractable drugs problems. This morning’s bad news was that knife crime has soared on Teesside. In the past six months, there were 62 stabbings, three of them murders, one of which was in Grangetown.

The police see the problem as drugs related, with dealers mainly arming themselves in self-defence in this dangerous world. In that context, I welcome the Home Secretary’s weekend announcement that he will hold an open-minded inquiry into the possibility of legalizing cannabis. Unless it proves to be a gateway to hard drugs, it is an area of crime on which I suspect that police have to spend an amount of time disproportionate to its social mischief, leaving them less time for graver criminal matters.

I further welcome many of the proposals in “Making Punishment Work”, the report on sentencing by Mr. Halliday, delivered last week—especially its emphasis on extended periods of post-prison supervision in the community for violent offenders, and its revelation that the social exclusion unit is already working with the Home Office on ways of cutting ex-prisoners’ reoffending rates by boosting employment and lowering homelessness: joined-up government of the very best kind.

Our phrase, “A lot done, a lot still to do,” applies to crime. I resort again to my dual role as a woman representative and a lawyer in mentioning that I hope to ask Ministers to examine again the question of rape and the use of women’s previous sexual history in trials; to reassess the criminal defences to murder, which ill serve women victims of domestic violence who finally kill their batterers; and to implement straight away the gender impact assessment scheme for criminal justice measures, which was set up at the Home Office when my right hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio was Minister of State there, but which is not yet in operation.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on her appointment to high office, and seriously return to where I facetiously started in complementing her on the coincidence of her judgment with that of many of my constituents in the wisdom of the measure that she has introduced today.

Vera Baird – 2007 Speech on Legal Aid Reforms

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Below is the text of the speech made by the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Vera Baird, on 13th March 2007.

 

I am grateful for the opportunity to address this conference. We have just seen in those video clips the importance of advice in helping the most vulnerable in our society. It is no coincidence that my ministerial responsibilities include both legal aid and social exclusion. Advice, both specialist legal advice and general advice, can make a real difference in lifting people out of difficulty. I want to talk to you today about the benefits of early advice and consider what legal services should look like for rural areas in the future.

Let me begin by recapping on the founding principles that are part of the advice system for which I am responsible – legal aid. Flowing from the Rushcliffe Report in 1945 and enacted in the 1949 Legal Aid and Advice Act, it was decided that a “judicare system” should be set up so lawyers would cater for the needs of the poor as well as the affluent. The poor would be able to receive legal advice so as to prosecute and defend a legal right and both counsel, like me, and solicitors would benefit from fair remuneration for what was clearly important services.

These principles were right then and, I believe, they are right now. We have to move the system forward so that it is sound for the future. What happened was that, unlike now, only lawyers increased on what they already did and broadened the client base, but it was all based on history, it was never planned to ensure the adequacy of supply. So in some places there was over supply and in some undersupply. It was a haphazard, piecemeal approach, which is how it has grown. Following a lot of development and consultation, the Community Legal Service was launched in April 2000. Its aim was to make the provision of legally aided and other advice services less fragmented, and to allow people to be sure to get the local advice that best suited their needs.

That is our commitment. It is vital that people can get good quality legal information and advice. I have no doubt at all that many of you in this room will know why. You will have seen the positive effects that the work you have carried out has had on your clients.

However, the case in favour of advice gets stronger when we combine the experience that providers, like you tell me about, with the evidence base from Pascoe Pleasence and the Legal Services Research Centre that we have now. We know from material produced by the Legal Services Research Centre that the provision of good early advice prevents relatively simple civil issues from tumbling into multiple problems causing distress and chaos.

A client may have a problem with their welfare benefits, and be unaware of the allowances to which they are entitled. Without that income they may be unable to meet financial commitments which in turn leads into a debt problem, which could lead to housing problems, family strain and family problems. It is easy for these problems to become more complex. Early legal advice is so important to prevent things from spiralling out of control.

Causes of Action, the bedrock of Pascoe Pleasence’s research, shows that the likely outcome is that people and problems can do well with advice. But if someone has a problem, but does not get help, they will tumble into problems. However, if they get some advice but it does not deal with the whole problem, the outcome can be worse. This was the evidence base on which the Community Legal Service Strategy, ‘Making Legal Rights A Reality’ was launched, almost a year ago.

Since then another piece of research ‘A Trouble Shared’ by Professor Moorhead, has shown that people tend to present with multiple problems, often in inter-related clusters, and vulnerable people have more problems which stress them, so they cannot deal with them themselves. Yet in half of the sample, if they got advice, a few weeks later when they were re-interviewed, they had other problems which the advisor had not unearthed and they were not helped. Often the problems were linked so were exactly in the same category, and the problem was worse than before they got advice. Advisors do not deal with issues seamlessly and if is not their expertise, they don’t see the problems even when they are linked. They don’t refer on well and because stressed and vulnerable people don’t go to appointments, they fall into poverty and worse.

Community Legal Service Strategy

The Strategy sets out the Commission’s intention to purchase legal services in ways that reflect clients’ problems and make it easier for them to access services. It will be a more holistic service, contracting with clients, which in short means providing a more holistic service and contracting with suppliers who can provide advice across several areas of law. At the moment there are few suppliers providing the comprehensive service clients need. The two main organisations delivering advice, Law Centres and Citizens Advice Bureaux are a case in point. I hugely admire the ethos of both, and I met with the Law Centres Federation yesterday. At present only one Law Centre provides services across the full range of core social welfare law categories – Community Care, Housing, Debt, Employment and Welfare Benefits. The most common number of categories delivered by Law Centres is three. It is a similar picture for CABs with the majority of bureaux – 134 holding contracts in two of these core categories.

The nature of our current supplier base does not therefore support the individual in helping them to resolve multiple problems. That is not to diminish in the slightest way how good the current service is being delivered. But it does mean that we have work to do to ensure that holistic service is available. So we propose establishing Advice Centres and Networks to enable us to better join up services and deliver an integrated and improved service that meets clients’ needs.

So what does this mean in practice?

Since the Strategy was published there has been much discussion with interested parties about the distinction between a Centre and a Network. In essence there is not much of a difference; both will offer the full range of social welfare law services and ultimately will operate under a single jointly commissioned contract. But on the whole Networks rather than Centres are the name of the game.

While the model for Centres is based on pulling all the key services into a single legal entity, Networks would bring together a consortium of organisations to provide services. Networks would therefore be likely to have multiple providers able to provide similar complimentary rather than competing types of advice.

The core objectives for any Network will be firstly, that once a client contacts any part of the Network they will have access to the help they need to resolve their multiple problems; and secondly, to reduce the amount of times a client needs to be referred on, avoiding the fallout I referred to.

Networking suppliers has been attempted before within the CLS, mainly through Community Legal Service Partnerships (CLSPs) and of course informal networks also exist throughout the CLS. While some individual networks have been successful in creating better referral processes for clients, The Independent Review of the Community Legal Service concluded that, overall, CLSP referral protocols were not working. It was found that clients are often referred inappropriately, signposted, or not referred at all.

To add value to current models of delivery it is essential that we improve the referral of clients. An ‘end-to-end’ service in Networks must go beyond just signposting clients to other local organisations but instead operate a full client management system. This will mean effective joint working and clients between appropriate Network members and will include the referral of a client where a Network member cannot do more. Those are the principles behind the strategy but each Network will be different. Models for Networks will vary according to local need and on the local supplier base and the quality and quantity of local provision. It is not about imposing the same template brought out from London, we will build on what is there.

Partnership working

One common theme of Centres and Networks will be partnership working. We can only deliver legal advice, not general advice. We need to ensure people get the right level of advice, relative to the severity of their problem.

Centres and Networks will bring together our core funding for specialist legal advice together with local authority funding for more general advice. Joint commissioning will have the added benefit for us, of combining local authority expertise in patterns of local need together with the Commission’s expertise in ensuring quality and value for money in the procurement of legal and advice services.

The LSC will commission the core bundle of social welfare law categories together with family. The budget for each area will be derived through a national funding formula so as to ensure that each area of the country receives an appropriate allocation for needs. The allocation of funding will no longer be based merely on the historic national pattern of spending that has just grown.

Recent discussions between the LSC and Cornwall County Council have been a great success in forging a strong working partnership between these two major funders of advice services in Cornwall. And it gives me great pleasure to be able to announce today, that the Council and the LSC will be working in partnership to develop a Community Legal Advice Network for Cornwall. Following the success of Gateshead CLAC, which is just starting and I am opening in May, Cornwall is the first CLAN and I am very pleased that it is the first model for what I think reflects rural and semi-rural areas.

Whilst it is too early to speak about the proposed network in any great detail I can say that this is good news for those in Cornwall, in need of legal advice. It will involve building on the work Pascoe demonstrated to locate the troubled, in a systematic way, to plan advice services as a whole. We will work out how to deliver it despite rural, transport and demographic problems. We have to engage practitioners about what they do now, how they work and who is delivering to whom, how they outreach or not and where supply types are good. A lot of work will need to be done over the coming weeks and months to develop the advice Network for Cornwall. The LSC and Council will publish further information in due course and will be seeking the input from local solicitors on how the network can be delivered so as to effectively meet client need.

Different forms of advice – technology

Obviously these days, delivering advice is not just about going to an advice agency or a solicitor’s office. In rural communities, and particularly in places like Cornwall where distances between towns can be vast, there needs to be a variety of provision. Community Legal Service (CLS) Direct, for example, offers free information and advice to everyone by phone (0845 345 4 345), the Internet (www.clsdirect.org.uk) and a range of legal leaflets. This service can be particularly helpful for those living in more isolated geographical areas.

Whilst the service is by no means intended to replace face-to-face advisers’, I am aware of the weaknesses, such as more vulnerable and complex issues may not emerge, but it has huge value. In half of cases, problems don’t emerge face to face, especially not the vulnerable. Research tells us that already around half of legal aid clients make first contact with an adviser by phone; and half of these solve their problems without visiting a solicitor or advice office.

Telephone advice can work better, as some people are reluctant to walk through the door of a lawyer’s office, as they are ashamed of their problem and find lawyers intimidating. Telephone is easier, less judgemental and you’re more in control and can hang up if they are not getting the advice they need. You will hear more about CLS Direct from John Sirodcar later this afternoon but the numbers and satisfaction rates for the service look very good with over 70,000 cases being handled through the service in 2005/06 and projections for 100,000 cases in the next twelve months.

But it is important that we don’t stop there – the phone is not enough, the advice sector needs to continue to develop innovative ways of delivering advice. We should be thinking about provision of e-mail advice for clients, particularly those with disabilities, who are not able to access face-to-face services. It is not just the young who e-mail, older people do too. We should consider how we can build up online advice tools like the one being developed by the Consumer Credit Counselling Service for people with debt problems. This works well, organised by credit card and local suppliers through internet contact. We need to think about using webcams to give advice directly to people’s homes. This afternoon you will be hearing from The East Cornwall Citizens Advice Bureaux Initiative and how they are looking to use video conferencing to cut down on the need to travel long distances. All around us in our daily lives we see technology getting smarter, quicker and more economical. We should make the most of that in delivering advice.

Impact of fixed fees and outreach

Although the main focus of this conference is access to advice and how services should work together to provide for rural communities, I also briefly want to touch upon the changes to legal aid fee schemes that will be introduced from October this year. It is well known that after consulting, we changed the detail and timing of the proposals and will support practitioners throughout the change.

I want to stress that not one penny is being cut from the budget for these cases. Money is being sliced in a different way. But those fees include all the amounts appropriate to the elements of vulnerability and complexity currently experienced by providers with their clients. Fixed fees are about standard cases. If a case becomes more complex – 3 times the level of the fixed fee – it goes out and is dealt with on a hourly basis so you can deal with vulnerable people and multiple problems. We will support the transition for the NfPs.

All proposals have adhered to rural proofing guidance. The LSC will, as the conference shows, as we are here, ensure that all roll-out of proposals set out in the Way Ahead, closely take into account rural needs and with Cornwall CLAN at the forefront is how we ensure that.

Some areas are better supplied than others. One of the aims of the changes will be to bring about a redistribution of supply to meet gaps in provision. Moving to a national fee should encourage growth of supply across the country. The LSC has looked at how providers would fare under the new fees based on their current workload and case lengths. More than 60% would improve profitability under the scheme. In other words the majority of providers in this region are already working at levels that will see them make a profit out of fixed fees. It is imperative that we use fixed fees to drive that up so that more people can be helped, many of them are already doing this.

Across the country productivity of not for profit agencies increased by 19% over the past 12 months. But this figure assumes that providers will be working in exactly the same way as they are doing now. They need to reorganise to pre-empt the reforms coming in October.

Crucially, the proposals enable outreach to continue to play an important role in serving more remote communities. Regional offices continue to have resources to agree extra payments for outreach work where this is needed to secure access. This applies to all services, whether delivered via Centres, Networks or the unified contract. As a matter of practice, regions have been making payments to NFPs for some outreach arrangements by agreement. These are usually to cover travel time and costs but some may include other expenses and why not client’s travel time if it is easier and not problematic. This discretion for regions to make extra payments for outreach where they consider it necessary for access, will continue after 1 April 07.

There are some excellent examples of outreach within West Cornwall in particular. Penwith CAB hold the Specialist Quality Mark in debt & welfare benefits and cover Penzance, Hayle, St Ives and Isles of Scilly. Kerrier CAB hold the SQM in debt, welfare benefits and employment and cover Redruth and Camborne. These services will be able to continue under the new payment schemes. Peripatetic advisors are necessary in some places – we understand the need for outreach.

Conclusion

This event demonstrates the depth and breadth of organisations working to deliver advice across the region. Most importantly it demonstrates a real commitment from you and us to overcoming issues about distance and access, in order to help some of the most vulnerable people in our rural communities get advice. The CLAC will combine yours and the council’s local knowledge and our funding for core legal advice and the council’s financial commitment to general advice to work together to provide, on a planned basis, the best advice supply to the public there has ever been. Your work does make a real difference and I am championing that across government. I hope you all enjoy the remainder of the day and I look forward to taking your questions on the panel.

 

Vera Baird – 2006 Speech on Equality Through Justice

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Below is the text of the speech made by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State of Constitutional Affairs, Vera Baird, on 11th November 2006. The speech was made at the Law Centre’s Federation Annual Conference at Salford.

 

Good afternoon, I want to thank the Law Centres Federation for asking me to speak to you today. The theme of this conference is equality through justice. It will not be news to any of you here that the DCA and LSC are currently in the process of analysing the responses to the recent consultation exercise held, following Lord Carter’s review of legal aid procurement. Ensuring equality through justice is what the Carter proposals are all about. This is a message I reiterated when I met Not for Profit providers during the summer. We need to make changes to the system to make it more efficient, so that we can use our money well, to get advice to more people. We also need, specifically, to rebalance criminal and civil legal aid spending to put more resources into that project.

So I want to speak to you about two principle issues. Firstly about the Carter review. And secondly about the future of the Community Legal Service, and the role of the Law Centres Federation.

1. Carter

Legal aid is a key part of the welfare state, with whose history you are well aware, flowing from the Rushcliffe Report in 1945.

Since then our country has changed dramatically, But publicly funded legal advice and representation hasn’t kept up with the pace of change.

The system has grown organically, with suppliers providing what they want to provide, rather than being developed in a planned, systematic way, to provide what people need. This is not a criticism – in particular not of you, who have always been very close to your communities. It now needs to be made to work better. Which is why Lord Falconer asked Lord Carter to look at how legal aid services were being procured. And why I believe that we can use the blueprint he has created as the basis for a sustainable future which ensures continued, equitable, access to justice.

I know that in recent weeks there has been some talk about the government’s commitment to the Carter reforms. So let me make this clear right at the outset: we are absolutely committed to fixed and graduated fees. I will not shrink from defending that principle which I think can drive improvements. But of course, the exact shape of some of the reforms needs your input, which is why we consulted, and why we are listening to what respondents have told us.

Fixed and graduated fees need to be appropriate to the nature of the work. We want providers to be able to do the most effective job and to have incentives related to this. And we certainly need an effective supply base.

There is no getting round the fact that the legal aid budget is finite. This is something that is not going to change so we need to continue to work within our funding parameters. It is not under-funded. It is the best system in the world but it is also by far the most expensive system. It is therefore vital that we ensure that every pound of the Legal aid budget is spend on delivering effective and high quality advice services to those who are most vulnerable and disadvantaged. I strongly believe that we can get more out of the Legal Aid budget if we can deliver it as efficiently and effectively as possible.

This is why we need to bring these reforms in as quickly as possible, subject to getting them right. The money available for legal aid is limited and the longer they take to introduce, the more will existing cash pressures be an issue that cannot be dodged. These reforms are designed to provide a viable long-term solution – rather than forcing us to make short term, reactive changes to individual schemes, to no useful end.

In terms of the Law Centres Federation’s specific response to Carter, there are a few key points I would like to pick up. I know you have concerns about case mix, and the potential for ‘cherry picking’, and point out that often Law Centres take on many complex cases that other suppliers won’t. It should not be necessary or appropriate to turn away more difficult cases as standard fee levels are based on average case costs that include a range of complexity.

The LSC is still considering suggestions on fee levels as part of their continuing data analysis. We want all suppliers to be capable of taking on all types of case, including complex ones, so we do not want our fee regime to encourage some suppliers to take on only the most complicated cases.

Adapting to the proposed changes will be easier for some of you who are already working under Solicitor contracts. However we intend to ensure that appropriate advice and support is made available to all organisations, that need it or want it, throughout the transitional period, as the new arrangements are brought in. In particular, a gentle supportive transition will help agencies, currently on contracts for hours, to manage the proposed change in payment methods from advance to arrears. It is clear that we can’t just change from one to the other or anything like that and we will discuss how to phase in the changes and work out a way to value work in progress. I know that now you are being asked to ensure that you provide hours and then you will be asked not to provide hours at all but to do cases on a fixed fee basis and clearly we have to be helping with that cultural transition as well.

The Legal Services Commission is responsible for purchasing specialist legal advice from the legal aid budget. We probably ought not to have been providing Level 1 generalist work and that will no longer receive funding from the Commission. However, the value of generalist diagnostic work is clear and we are in no way looking to scrap this work. Clearly the proposals for Community Legal Advice Networks (CLACs) and Community Legal Advice Centres (CLANs) which foresee combining LSC and local authority money in providing holistic advice ought to point a way forward for funding this.

I know the Law Centres Federation has also made some quite detailed comments on the Immigration and Asylum section of the consultation. The graduated fees proposed have been designed to be as flexible as possible, consisting of standard fees for Legal Help and Controlled Legal Representation advice plus additional payments for representation at each interview and hearing attended. We believe that the proposed scheme represents a workable and fair average for the work undertaken at the different stages of the case, whilst maintaining cost-neutrality of the total immigration and asylum budget. However, of course, all responses are currently being considered and the scheme will be reviewed in light of the comments, information and cost data received and where fees are cost neutral it is easier to take more time to fix them.

I know you are concerned that these reforms will reduce your ability to hold providers of public services to account. This is certainly not our intention. In fact, an argument I am keen to sell to my colleagues around Government is that using the feedback from advice agencies is an excellent way to identify where things are going wrong and to take steps to improve services. The movement to fixed fees offers opportunities for the best agencies to expand. The most efficient NfP providers will be able to retain a surplus equivalent to private firms’ rate of profit. That surplus will be unrestricted funding and can be used to develop other services, such as lobbying or campaigning.

Although the LSC are understandably looking to deal with fewer, larger suppliers, the proposals do still offer the opportunity for small, entrepreneurial and BME firms to both exist in the current market and to increase their profitability. The proposal of a minimum fund-take as a pre-requisite for obtaining or keeping a Unified Contract, should not automatically mean the loss of a contract. Those agencies that seek to remain small, locally-based or niche providers, can play a key role as sub-contractors or as the general advice providers within Community Legal Advice Centres and Networks. I have made clear that there will be a diversity impact assessment on all of these proposals to ensure that there is no unjustifiable disproportionate effect on these suppliers.

2. The future of the CLS, and role of Law Centres

The need for providers to work together brings me onto the future direction of the Community Legal Service and the role that Law Centres can play. The DCA/LSC want to build on the valuable services delivered by advice agencies such as Law Centres – not replace them. Through the CLS Strategy the point is to work with advice providers in creating fully integrated and holistic services that provide clients with a full range of high quality advice and legal services.

Law Centres are central to this aim and work with some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in society. That work is made possible by committed and dedicated staff. Work that has had an immensely positive impact on the local communities that you serve.

Complex and interlinked problems require integrated and holistic solutions. This is what evidence, such as the Legal Services Research Centre’s Causes of Action tells us. To achieve this providers will need to change the way they work (for example through linking together to deliver services via the CLAC/N models), to ensure that clients are offered a more holistic service. You will be aware that the research shows that problems cluster and if there isn’t early advice they can multiply. You will know that people quickly succumb to referral fatigue if they are referred on and that someone with a problem who seeks help and only gets partial advice can suffer a poorer outcome than someone who doesn’t seek advice at all.

It is also important to note that the CLAC/N model is not set in stone – we are willing to work with suppliers, Local Authorities and other key stakeholders in developing models that work locally and involve local expertise. It is in everyone’s interests that we demonstrate flexibility.

The key, intrinsic, point about CLACs is that they will offer integrated advice services across a range of social welfare law categories.

At present only one Law Centre provides services across the full range of core social welfare law categories – Community Care, Housing, Debt, Employment and Welfare Benefits. Five Law Centres offer advice in just one of these core categories; nineteen, twenty-nine, and three Law Centres offer advice in two, three and four of the core social welfare law categories respectively. And of course Law Centres do not do much Family advice. Some new research from Richard Moorhead and another called “A Trouble Shared” shows that though not the most frequent problem cluster, which is debt-welfare benefits-housing, the cluster of problems around family breakdown is the most complex and potentially the most serious, and that makes clear how important it is to have advisers available who can work together on all the aspects of an individuals problems either literally in a one-stop shop or in some closely integrated arrangement.

Let me make it clear, we owe the Law Centres who work tirelessly up and down the country, and all the staff that work within them a huge debt. I am in no way trying to denigrate the absolutely crucial and first class service that you deliver. Quite the opposite in fact, in many cases, Law Centres will be excellently placed to bid for CLAC contracts, and I would strongly encourage Law Centres to do this. “A Trouble Shared” was based on watching advisers interviewing and later interviewing the client – and there was also a process of reviewing a larger number of files. Of the 59 interviews recorded, subsequent conversation with the client suggested that in 28 cases the client had problems other than the one dealt with which had not been brought out or not dealt with. Sometimes this was a linked problem and that does suggest that we still have a lot to learn about ensuring holistic advice.

But, if there is one thing I can say to you today above all else, it is this. We want to build on the expertise and community presence held by Law Centres. We would like to see Law Centres at the heart of CLACs and CLANs. Can I encourage Law Centres to work together and in partnership with other advice providers so that our service becomes systematically client- focused?

I hope that you can see the various reforms we propose not as obstacles but as supports towards improved services and I look forward to working with Law Centres as we move forward.

Thank you all for your time this afternoon.