Chair’s Blog – March 2021 Board meeting

picture of Dr Helen Phillips, Chair of LSBThis Board meeting this month centred on the approval of the strategy and business plan 2021/22. While our plan sets out clearly what the LSB will do, the strategy makes clear that addressing challenges like unmet legal need and improving diversity and inclusion will need action across the whole sector. The strategy sets out a ten-year strategic direction, including initial strategic priorities for the next three years. A business plan will accompany this each year. The Board confirmed the golden thread of the strategy – reshaping legal services to better meet society’s needs – and the three strategic themes of fairer outcomes, stronger confidence and better services. We are keen to capitalise on the commitment to collaboration on addressing the challenges facing the sector, and we will say more on this when we publish the final documents.

Amongst our exploration of the strategy and business plan, we resumed our discussion of the December 2020 recommendations of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which we had started in our January Board meeting. The CMA has asked us to coordinate action on market transparency, and on this note we were pleased to see our new research and discussion paper on quality indicators published last month. We have invited stakeholders to respond to our discussion paper by April and this will inform our draft statement of policy on consumer engagement and consultation in the Summer.

The Board had previously decided to develop a statutory policy statement to set expectations of the regulatory bodies on market transparency. We considered various approaches to the implementing the CMA’s recommendations. The Board reiterated our commitment in principle to taking a leadership role in taking the CMA’s recommendations forward, alongside our other workstreams. We look forward to further discussions about how we might coordinate activity across the regulators, working collaboratively across the sector.

In the spirit of preparing for the new financial year, we welcomed Sarah Chambers, Chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, who presented the Panel’s draft strategy and work programme. We endorsed their proposals which included using their convening power to coordinate a sector response to meet the access to justice issues exacerbated by Covid-19 and promoting a regulatory response to advice deserts. We were pleased to see that their programme highlighted their desire to work with the LSB and support our own research and strategy, and we look forward to continuing our collaboration in the interests of promoting and protecting the interests of consumers of legal services.

To present the Office for Legal Complaints’ (OLC) 2021/22 Budget application, we were joined by Elisabeth Davies, Chair, Paul McFadden, Chief Ombudsman, Sandra Strinati, Chief Operating Officer, and Michael Letters, Head of Finance. After a discussion about the importance of performance management and positive working culture, as well as KPIs and the OLC’s proposed value for money framework, we approved their budget proposals. This wasn’t an easy decision for the Board to make, given the scale of investment sought compared to the limited gains in tackling the backlog that the OLC expects to achieve next year. However, the Board noted that the OLC’s performance projections were minimum expected gains and it is anticipated that planned innovations will deliver faster improvement. The Board considered that the budget was necessary to give the OLC the opportunity to turn performance around but was equally clear that results must be delivered this time. We will shortly publish our decision letter, which will set out the Board’s findings in more detail.

Finally, we ended our meeting with our heartfelt thanks to Marina Gibbs. Marina has been a lay member of the LSB board since April 2014 and this was her last Board meeting. We are thankful for her contribution to the LSB and look forward to welcoming our newest Board member in April.