There are plenty of ways to waste an evening. You could watch a serving MP eat kangaroo gonads or rent an Adam Sandler film. You could, perhaps, stand up to your waist in a river and pretend to be a TV news reporter.
All pretty wasteful, you’ll agree – but they’re not half as pointless as filling out a response to a Solicitors Regulation Authority consultation if the latest is anything to go by. This week was a classic example of the ‘thanks but no thanks’ approach to consultations favoured by so many public bodies.
The SRA asked you – the people who actually know best – if solicitors should be free to refer clients to financial advisers that are ‘tied into a financial product’ (jargon-speak for ‘vested interest’). It’s a bit like opening a new shark tank at your local swimming pool on the grounds that it offers the punters an extra choice of where to swim.
Sadly, we don’t know who responded or what they said. We don’t know if the SRA was besieged by angry letters from worried solicitors desperately telling them that liberalisation could damage the profession. Consultation responses will be available only from January, weeks after today’s SRA board meeting when members will inevitably toe the party line and vote in favour (my guess is just two will speak out against it; I could probably say who they’ll be too).
By which time the furore over the decision will long since have passed and solicitors will have spent much of their Christmas break working out what risks they face from referring a client onto an adviser on the fiddle.
The frustration here is not so much that the decision is wrong (which it is) but the lack of accountability behind it. The people making this recommendation weren’t chosen by solicitors – they are bureaucrats able to exert enormous and potentially damaging reforms.
You can feel the patronising tone oozing out of the statement from Agnieszka Scott, director of policy, in her statement ahead of the meeting. ‘We have taken on board the comments received, some of which have given us food for thought,’ she said.
‘However, nothing has changed us from our belief that the best way forward is to implement our preferred option.’
Nothing, eh? Not one response was coherent, challenging or persuasive enough to convince them this is a bad idea? If you were one of those that did respond, you obviously didn’t do it well enough. Might as well have watched I’m A Celebrity.
The SRA will justify this move on the grounds that solicitors will be free to assess and discuss clients’ needs, not restricted by a prescriptive rule. Which is odd as it seems to rely on prescriptive rules from the FSA that restricted advisers be as squeaky-clean as those that are independent.
We shall see. But if a solicitor is taken to court by a client who has been referred onto a dodgy adviser, there will be plenty in the legal profession to justifiably say ‘I told you so’.
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