The arrival of a new chair of the Legal Services Board (LSB), taking up the post in April this year, is the “dominating issue” in its governance, a report by external consultants has found.
Despite a few quibbles, management consultants Campbell Tickell said the results of their external evaluation were “unusually positive”, with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) describing the LSB as a “highly effective regulator”.
The consultants said they were commissioned by the LSB to carry out the evaluation last summer, against the background of the search for a new chair.
The MoJ began recruiting a new chair for the LSB last April, with Lord Chancellor Dominic Raab predicting that the successor to Dr Helen Phillips would play a key role in “reshaping legal services”.
The successful candidate was named this week as Alan Kershaw. He will be paid £63,000 for a commitment of at least 70 days a year.
The consultants said: “We particularly heard much positive feedback about the chair [Dr Helen Phillips] and chief executive [Matthew Hill].
“The LSB and its governance are well respected by external stakeholders, including the Ministry of Justice.
“The dominating issue on LSB’s governance landscape is the forthcoming change of chair, with a shared determination to find a candidate of the necessary calibre and skills, and to ensure that there is continuity to retain the strong positives of the current regime and responding to the changing environment, which includes a new team.”
The MoJ’s contact was “primarily with the chair and CEO, whom they view as strong individuals leading a highly effective regulator leveraging its influence well and using its regulatory tools appropriately”.
The MoJ was “highly positive about a shared sense of outcomes in its relationship with the LSB”, and “was supportive of LSB operating within its role, while being alert to the perceptions of others that LSB may be ‘over ambitious’ or have too broad objectives”.
This would appear to be a reference to criticism of the LSB by the Bar Council, which has regularly criticised it for exceeding its remit, warning that the oversight regulator may be breaching the Legal Services Act.
In terms of quibbles, consultants said a couple of members of staff viewed the board of the LSB as “not particularly diverse”, for example in representing younger people.
It would be “helpful” for the LSB to consider whether there were other ways to incorporate diversity within the board”. Oone interviewee mentioned the “board apprentice scheme via the MoJ”, or it could follow the example of another regulatory body and have an associate non-executive director on the board.
Longer-serving members of staff had “noted a rise in the time commitment” from board members’ emails and internal and external meetings, and the “occasional lumpiness of demands” could be “challenging”.
The consultants also heard feedback that board meetings “can err towards being transactional rather than discursive (this is a cultural choice), and that even at the strategic session contributions felt somewhat over-orchestrated or directed rather than free flowing, with a strong focus on presentations”.
The impression gained was that “at times the culture of meetings can feel a little constraining or somewhat ‘corseted’, and that there should be space on occasion for some kind of anticipatory/strategic thinking or lateral challenges”.
The evaluation went on: “A couple of people put arguments forward in favour of public meetings, for example that the LSB pushes other regulators to be transparent and should be rigorous in applying this standard to itself, and that open meetings need not hinder good debates.
“Another argument aired was that journalists can have access to minutes and papers, but through not witnessing the debate can misconstrue information.
“The popular view is that the LSB is currently fielding the right balance in being open and transparent, with board papers published very promptly, minutes shared, and the chair issuing a blog after each meeting outlining board discussions and decisions.”