It is a timely message for the Bar Council. The publicly funded Bar is facing cuts in fees of as much as 40% in some cases, on top of successive waves of cuts year-on-year, imposed by Parliament in the dying days of the last Administration. The cost of regulation is ever increasing, as the BSB budgets for start-up costs in relation to entity regulation of £400,000 (an initiative being undertaken as a result of responses to a consultation conducted by the BSB earlier this year). All this amidst increasing calls to ensure Bar Council expenditure is kept to a minimum.
There can be no doubt that the Bar Council and its staff (the Secretariat) work relentlessly and tirelessly in the interests of the profession. I suspect that any problems that may exist do so not because of any lack of commitment or professionalism of the Secretariat, but because of the demands that we, the Bar, in a somewhat disorganised fashion, place on them. Do we know what we expect from our Bar Council, and do we communicate those expectations effectively to it?
In my inaugural speech I stressed the need for greater communication, between the Bar and the Bar Council, and between and within the Bar Council and the Secretariat, not to create another layer of “talking shops”, for “talking shops” rarely get things done, but to ensure that the Bar Council is relevant to the profession as a whole, and to ensure we all have clearly defined and consistent messages.
“What does the Bar Council do for me?” is a familiar refrain I hear from within the Bar. To be honest, I have asked such questions myself in the past. I have now seen, first-hand, the excellent work that the Secretariat do on behalf of the Bar, and the energy and commitment with which they undertake it. The issue for me now is not “what are they doing”, but “is their work relevant to the Bar’s needs?”
I am determined that the Bar Council should be relevant to those needs, and that it becomes more cost effective and more responsive. An issue for us is whether we are providing efficient, and sufficient, leadership to those in the Secretariat. We now have a Strategic Plan, approved by GMC, and adopted by the Bar Council, which provides a framework, and some direction, for the activities of the Bar Council for the next few years. I have invited all Bar Council Committees to produce Business Plans for the next year by reference to, and within, that framework, and to report on progress throughout the year, to ensure that we are getting things done.
But do we have the right Committees: are they appropriately constituted, sufficiently focused, and resourced? How effective and efficient are they? Are they making effective and appropriate use of the Secretariat? The Secretariat are a very valuable resource and like all valuable resources, they must be “used” wisely, strategically and sparingly. In short, we have to review the relationship between the elected members of the Bar Council and the Secretariat, what is expected by one of the other, and how we can maximise the resources available to us.
To become more cost effective and responsive, the Bar Council needs to review the role of the Bar Council and its interaction with the SBAs and with the Circuits, so as to ensure that what the Council does is relevant to the Bar and its needs, and to avoid unnecessary duplication of time, effort and resources.
We have to ask ourselves, in all that the Bar Council does, what is on its agenda for the next year, what is it expected to achieve, what value is there in doing it, and what would happen if we do not do it? I have invited all Committees to adopt that approach to their work. For its part the Secretariat are very supportive of that approach.
This is our Bar Council. Let us invest and marshal our resources to make it as cost effective and responsive as possible.
Michael Todd QC, Bar Chairman