‘Voters may not like it but if you pay peanuts you get monkeys. Unless our pay goes up, the decline in the quality of people prepared to become ########## will increase and the whole country will suffer.’
The comment may have come from a disgruntled legal aid lawyer, a policeman whose pay has been frozen or a teacher who has lost out. It could have come from any one of the professions that rely on public money to survive, who provide a service to the general public. But it doesn’t…
The words blanked out are “MPs and Ministers”, and the comnent is made by an unnamed senior policitian about the suggestion that MPs pay should be increased by £10,000 per annum. Apparently, one in three MPs believe they should have a pay increase of £25,000 per annum, but will seek only £10,000 as it is more palatable to the voter.
There are currently 650 Members of Parliament, so do the math and that is an eye-watering amount of extra money to find, even if it is spread across a five year period. At a time of apparent austerity and cuts to all others who take a public service salary, it is frankly a suggestion that beggars belief.
The money is not the real issue to me though. What caught my attention is the argument put forward that links between renumeration and quality.
The legal aid proposals have been rightly criticised by both arms of the profession as fundamentally wrong, as regards both the evidence on which they are based and the manner of the proposed cuts to the budget. Make no mistake, the proposals are based purely on cuts and are in no way designed to improve the system.
Key amongst the criticisms is the inevitable decline in quality, as the reforms will create a much smaller supplier base with a guarantee of work within a procurement area. No longer will suppliers need to fight for work or clients. It will make no difference to them if they provide an exceptional service or simply an acceptable one, the work will still keep coming. There will be no competition as there can be no new entrants, and a client cannot choose a supplier who does do the job properly; the client will be allocated to a lawyer on the basis of name, birth date or perhaps even hair colour.
With a cut to the amount of money available for each case, the mega firm, who may well be owned by publically quoted companies will want to ensure a return on their investment. As a result the pay available to those who work for them is unlikely to be attractive, certainly not when you consider the need to work outside of the traditional 9 to 5. Those with ability, flair and a passion for the work simply will not be there. There will be likelihood of new talent wanting to join the profession and the whole legal profession will die a slow and painful death.
If a senior politician can recognise this for their own profession, why can they not see it for others?
We must continue to fight, to highlight our concerns and ensure those that will suffer the most from the wholesale destruction of legal aid and those that provide it are aware of what is happening behind the closed doors of the Ministry of Justice.