SLCC launches 2024-25 budget and operating plan consultation
Continued inflationary pressure on core costs and significant uncertainty are key drivers in the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s 2024-25 budget, published for consultation today.
The organisation is required to ensure its budget is sufficient to deliver its statutory duties to serve consumers, the profession, and the public.
Legal and IT costs plus rising staffing costs from the public sector pay deal, which together account for the vast majority of the organisation’s expenditure, put significant pressure on the budget. This is despite a significant saving in property costs achieved by a recent office move (a package of over £500,000 of savings in the next five years) and efficiencies already embedded in the system.
2024-25 will also bring significant uncertainty for the organisation with scrutiny of the Regulation of Legal Services (Scotland) Bill due to conclude just before the start of the year. That legislation could result in significant reforms to the SLCC’s powers and functions, which the organisation’s plans and budget must account for.
There is also uncertainty relating to the impact of a failed firm on incoming complaint numbers, with questions raised in Parliament about the SLCC’s resources to deal with an expected increase in complaints.
These pressures mean the levy is proposed to rise by 13% this year. The average employed solicitor’s levy will increase by £51 to £444, with solicitors in the first three years of practice paying less than half of that.
For the vast majority (77%) of practitioners the levy they pay has risen by less than CPI inflation since 2010-11. The exception to that is business owners who have most opportunity to influence quality, internal complaints handling, and compliance with statutory duties to respond to the SLCC, and who pay a higher rate.
The full budget and proposed levies will be reviewed again before a final budget is set.
In light of the uncertainty due to reform, the SLCC is also consulting on a draft interim strategy and a draft operating plan for the year, focused on continued high performance in delivering the organisation’s core functions of complaints handling, redress, oversight and guidance, and on implementing reform. Key objectives for the year include maintaining reduced journey times for complaints and tackling the issue of solicitors’ non-compliance with statutory requests for information.
SLCC Chair, Jane Malcolm commented, “This is a year of unprecedented uncertainty for us as Parliament debates proposals to reform the legislation that sets out how we work so that we can provide a more efficient and effective service to both the users of legal services and to the profession. We need to make sure we can continue to deliver our existing statutory functions and deal with potential increases in complaint numbers, while delivering any transition to reformed functions as quickly as possible.
“We are committed to resolving complaints about the service consumers receive, preventing the common causes of complaints, and enabling quality improvement across the legal sector. The continued focus on customer service, improvement and accessibility in our strategy and operating plan is testament to that.”
SLCC Chief Executive Neil Stevenson said, “Many of the key drivers of cost and inefficiency in the complaints system are being discussed as part of the reform debate, and we’ve supported proposals in the Bill that seek to tackle them. This includes the appeals mechanism, which is significantly more costly than other comparable UK ombudsman schemes, resulting in our high legal and court costs.
“Our commitment to all stakeholders is to deliver whatever system is in statute as efficiently and effectively as possible. What is not sustainable is that the most expensive and complex civil justice arrangements possible are called for in reform and then the cost of that is later bemoaned, which is what happened in 2007 with the current legislation.
“We believe there is a real opportunity, if seized by those debating reform, to reduce costs to the SLCC, and therefore the profession and consumers. We’d encourage those opposing improving efficiency in this area to consider the long-term costs.
“We invite responses to the consultation on the draft budget, strategy and operating plan.”
The consultation is open until noon, Thursday 14 March 2024. Full details of general levies for different legal practitioners are in the draft budget.