The Legal Aid Agency must find £11m worth of administrative savings by 2020, its chief executive told practitioners this morning, adding later to the Gazette that he is confident of meeting the target.
Shaun McNally told the Legal Aid Practitioners Group conference in Leeds that the agency has taken administration spending down from £112m to £78m since 2010.
But he has to find another £11m worth of savings over the rest of the spending review period.
The agency has already reduced spending by over a third, with cuts and reductions in overall levels of administrative resources, he said. This has had a ‘real impact overall’ on the organisation.
But over the same period of time, performance has improved, he said, something that highlights the agency’s ‘crime change’ programme as a ‘significant’ initiative that demonstrated what is possible when the agency and profession work together.
McNally said: ‘If we reflect back, 500,000 applications on paper every year, submitted across 123 court locations.
‘Working with you we were able to bring those into the agency, put it on to a digital platform and transform the way in which that service was provided. To turn those advocations around in a consistent and standard way within 48 hours. That was possible because of the work that we did with the profession.
‘It was possible as a result of us working together for the right outcomes.’
With the agency facing financial challenges ‘like everybody else’, McNally said everyone needed to imagine a ‘slightly different’ future.
‘What if we were able to work together, and work with the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, and work with others to help identify some of those things that frustrate us and frustrate you,’ he said. ‘What if we look for better outcomes in the service that we provide. What if we challenge ourselves to work in a different way. What if we had a different relationship, that was one akin to adult to adult.
‘What if we understood and we appreciated each other’s perspective and recognise that there will be differences, but what if we were prepared to move to make a real difference.’
McNally told the event he believes ‘real progress’ has been made over the past three years.
He said: ‘I believe that we can meet the challenges if we work together, if we are prepared to listen to each other, if we are prepared to ask ourselves the question “what if?”.
‘I believe we can do things differently, and I’m committed to working with you, to listening to you, to make our processes more efficient and more effective as we move forward.’
McNally, who joined the agency in October 2012, said that after 30 years as a civil servant 'this is the best organisation that I’ve ever had the pleasure and the privilege to work for. I am proud to be able to say that I lead a great organisation.’
McNally, who began his career in the justice system at Newcastle County Court in December 1985, added: ‘And, to use a nice north-eastern phrase, I feel like a pig in muck.’
Commenting on the spending review commitments, McNally told the Gazette that any good organisation ‘will make informed decisions about how it utilises its resources’.
Through the work that has already been done, such as digitisation and looking at improving processes and systems, the agency has reduced costs by 34% since 2010-11.
This work includes the crime change programme, introducing e-forms for legal aid, and sending representation orders out for criminal cases to practitioners via email.
On finding an additional £11m worth of savings, McNally said: ‘I’m confident that we’ll be able to do it, but we need to work through, as a team, to deliver those cost reductions.’