Chris Kenny, chief executive of the Legal Services Board (LSB), has written to “senior officials” at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) objecting to plans that risk “undermining our independence from government”.
Mr Kenny said the MoJ was seeking to impose “detailed spend controls at a micro level”, which would require the LSB to “seek permission for virtually all our research spend and stakeholder engagement activities”.
He said the controls proposed went beyond the agreed restrictions in the “framework agreement” between the two organisations.
In his progress report for the September meeting of the LSB, released earlier this month, Mr Kenny said this would result in a “level of control” which the MoJ had “discretion to adjust in line with the wider Cabinet Office spend controls”.
He said the MoJ’s approach to the issue was already having an impact on the timing of “much-needed” work to refresh the LSB’s website.
Mr Kenny objected to a further proposal that would see all finance directors at the MoJ’s arm’s-length bodies, including that of the LSB, having a “soft line” to a senior MoJ finance official for “advice, mentoring and with some role in objective-setting and performance management”.
The LSB chief executive added that he had been promised a “senior-level response” from the MoJ.
A spokeswoman for the MoJ said: “We have been in discussion with the Legal Services Board about financial spending controls and these are ongoing.
“The LSB is independent of government in its decision-making, but is required to adhere to spending controls imposed on all bodies paid from public funds.
“There are mechanisms to allow arm’s-length bodies, including the LSB, to make the case for exceptions to the current rules.”
The spokeswoman added that the advice and mentoring for finance directors to which the LSB referred, was part of a “functional leadership” scheme. This was intended to support the career development of finance professionals, and had no impact on the LSB’s independence in decision-making.
“It is the responsibility of all public bodies to apply stringent controls to ensure we maximise value and reduce costs for the taxpayer,” she added.
This appears to be the latest example of government diktats that are applied indiscriminately without consideration of the independence of the LSB; it previously fought off a bid to move its website onto the MoJ’s and have a ‘.gov.uk’ URL.