Our Corporate Plan sets out our strategic objectives for a three-year planning period.
The following is a summary of our Corporate Plan for 2020-23.
Please see below for the full downloadable report.
This plan is built on a number of important building blocks.
Our vision is that the people of Scotland are confident that we provide fair and transparent access to funding for services that support the exercise and protection of their rights.
To fund and deliver services that enable people to enforce and protect their rights, defend themselves and manage their personal affairs and relationships.
We started a programme of transformation three years ago and this corporate plan is built on those themes of transforming how we manage legal aid and being prepared for the future.
In our previous Corporate Plan we set a fresh mission to transform how we deliver our functions and embarked on an important programme to strengthen our decision making systems and processes. The aim was to make it easier for us to carry out our role, easier for solicitors to work with us, and easier for the public to understand what they can expect from legal aid and navigate of the process. We have made good progress.
The way we measure and publish information on our operational performance has changed beyond recognition. This has been pivotal to our transformation work. We have moved the focus of our performance in the processing of applications and accounts away from the range of things that it is easier for us to control to measuring the time taken for the whole process as experienced by applicants and solicitors.
We have also changed our approach to the way we manage risks, an important part of which has been to articulate what risks we are prepared to take and those which we are not. This has enabled a better focus on outcomes rather than processes and to encourage a more innovative approach to service delivery. It has also resulted in us changing policies where, on assessment of risk through this new lens, we have considered the impact of action taken to manage a risk to be disproportionate to the possible adverse event itself. Most recently, this new approach assisted us as we managed and responded to Covid-19.
We have developed, and are now well underway with, a major multi-year change programme, the Guidance on the Administration of Legal Assistance (GALA) programme, which aims to improve our internal decision making framework, helping ensure the consistency and transparency of our decision making in applications for legal aid funding and payment of accounts.
We have developed a policy framework as the central organising structure for our future decision making which aims to review around 160 separate types of decision. This important change programme will form the backbone of this corporate plan and is an opportunity to review our operational policies. We will review how we apply the rules set out in the legislation and regulations and our guidance and training both for solicitors and our own decision makers.
By improving the clarity of our decision making, we will improve the visibility and accountability of our actions.
Legal aid and wider justice system policy is the responsibility of the Scottish Government, and where legislative change is required, the Scottish Parliament. Where policy or legislative changes are made, we must then identify, develop and deliver any modifications to our procedures needed to implement that change.
We also have an important role in advising on the impacts of both the current system and potential changes on the people that receive, or could receive, our funding and on wider Scottish Government outcomes.
Our response to the Scottish Government’s legal aid review consultation in summer 2019 set out a range of different legal aid models that the Scottish Government could adopt to meet the aims set out in the review.
We will continue to advise and assist the Scottish Government with the continued development of their response to the review.
The level of resource this will require is currently unclear – it will depend on the degree of change that is pursued and whether primary legislative change will be necessary for some of the further reaching reforms included in the consultation.
Not all developments in the operation of legal aid or the outcomes it delivers need flow from legislative or Scottish Government policy change.
Our own decisions about how we apply the rules and the processes we put in place can also have a significant impact and have potential to change how the operation of the system contributes to the Scottish Government’s policy objectives for legal aid.
In the coming period we will continue the ongoing process of reviewing our policies and processes: improvements in our governance and decision making will continue to more explicitly align our policy decisions about how we manage the system with the Scottish Government’s objectives.
Developing this awareness of our impact, our responsiveness and our capabilities for strategic change in this way will demonstrate our potential to play a key strategic role as the legal aid system develops in line with Ministers’ decisions.
As a public body we have a range of statutory duties and functions. The extent to which our performance of these can or does contribute to wider Scottish Government outcomes and the National Performance Framework (NPF) is dependent on our specific role and particularly the extensive and complex body of current legal aid legislation. This legislation is the foundation of the various legal aid payment schemes that we administer.
The majority of expenditure from the Legal Aid Fund is judicare funding - funding to provide case by case services. The nature of the current legal aid legislation means that this judicare funding is unplanned and largely non-targeted.
This legal aid expenditure and the services it supports can be seen as contributing in a broad sense to the NPF: in particular, respect for the rule of law – one of the three guiding values in the NPF - and the national outcome that people respect, protect and fulfil human rights and live free from discrimination.
However, the mostly unplanned pattern of funding requests and services delivered that is a key feature of the current system means that resources cannot be more purposely directed towards meeting any specific Scottish Government priority.
That current pattern is determined by a combination of members of the public deciding whether to seek help and hundreds of predominantly small firms of solicitors in the private sector deciding whether or not to offer a particular kind of service, whether to act for a person if they ask for assistance and, if so, whether to do so on legal aid.
Each decision by a person to seek help, by a solicitor to offer a service and by SLAB to provide funding means that someone can access an important service. That is of course a positive outcome for each person, and one that contributes to the NPF in a general sense.
In the absence of any ability for either us or Scottish Government to make a conscious decision to direct resources towards specific needs, individuals or strategic priorities, it is much less clear whether this process maximises the contribution of legal aid to the delivery of wider outcomes.
The Legal Aid Review outcomes suggest a more strategic role for SLAB in directing some funding towards particular types of problem, geographic areas or communities, which could enhance both legal aid’s and SLAB’s contributions to the National Performance Framework.
This of course is matter for Ministers and, ultimately, Parliament. In the meantime, we will continue to use the limited levers we have to maximise the legal aid system’s contribution to wider Scottish Government outcomes. We can go some way to target the small amount of the Legal Aid Fund that supports our in-house solicitors in their delivery of casework services to the public, and in the development of grant funding schemes in conjunction with Scottish Government.
The programme of work set out in this plan will ensure that the way we do this is transparent, based on a sound understanding of user needs and the impact of the way we deliver our services on them, and enhances our accountability for the funds we manage.
At the heart of the payment schemes we administer is the enabling and protection of civil, political, social and human rights. Equality and diversity is therefore a key principle for us in the delivery of our functions.
In line with our focus on organisational and operational excellence, we recognise that we can do more in this area. We have recently been engaging with the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) about how we approach our equalities work.
In particular we have focused on when and how we assess the impacts of our decisions, policies and procedures on those with protected characteristics and how we can best use this process to fulfil our public sector equality duties.
We will work closely with the EHRC over the first half of this corporate plan to improve our impact assessment practice and the mainstreaming of equality. This joint work is a positive opportunity to improve our work in this area, move us into a position of good practice and develop a close, constructive relationship with the EHRC.
As part of the GALA programme, we aim to make the link between our decision making and our public sector equality duties more explicit, visible and thus improve opportunities for others to hold us accountable.
To support that we are also developing changes to the collection of data in our application systems to encourage greater disclosure of equalities characteristics by applicants.
The justice system as a whole is currently dealing with its response to the Covid-19 challenges.
In particular, the Recover, Renew, Transform strategy is aimed at creating a sustainable and resilient model for the operation of police custody, the courts, prisons and community justice in a post Covid-19 environment, within public health guidelines and which can manage both ongoing business and the significant backlog that has already built up.
We will be an important partner in the delivery of that strategy. Again, this will require our senior resource to work closely with justice system partners.
This plan has been designed to galvanise our staff behind our mission and vision. Through the work we will do to deliver the objectives it sets out, our staff will develop and demonstrate the range of skills, experience
and approaches needed to design, manage and deliver services in a range of ways.
These will be key if the Scottish Government decides that a more strategic legal aid body is needed to oversee a more diverse range of approaches to future service provision, in addition to judicare, as envisaged by the Legal Aid Review.
If Ministers decide not to develop the legal aid system in that way and our range of functions remains as at present, this plan will strengthen our management of the legal aid system: exemplifying the best in public sector decision making and service delivery.
Our People Strategy, which was approved by the Board in June 2019, incorporated a range of workstreams designed to enable and empower our staff to deliver to their full potential.
This was centred on analysis of our current and future skills needs as a first step towards a review of job design, job evaluation and grading structures and training and recruitment to support the development of an overall future workforce plan.
Covid-19 has resulted in a significant shift in the scope of work we are able to take forward at this time to deliver the people strategy and has also impacted on our approach to workforce planning, at least for the near
Not only have key staff working on the strategy been diverted to managing our response to Covid-19, but the pandemic itself and associated restrictions is having a
significant effect on how we deliver our services and utilise our workforce. At least some of these impacts are also likely to have implications for our future delivery and workforce planning.
Elements of the strategy will therefore now be delivered through our Designing a New Working Environment project (DANWE).
Other aspects will be delivered through a review of our suite of HR and other people-related policies, which will include changes prompted both by our developing working environment and also a comprehensive review
of the equalities impacts of our existing or new policies.
Our GALA project will also directly impact on our approach to developing the potential of our staff, including shortening training timeframes and enhancing their ability to move more easily between roles. Workforce planning will remain a key focus of our people related work from skills, capabilities and
financial viewpoints, and we will prioritise this once we have reached conclusions on the shape of our new working environment.
As we develop and adapt to that new working environment and review our people policies, the key themes from the people strategy will guide our decision making as we seek to:
This objective is about building the delivery of our services around an understanding of what applicants for legal assistance need. We will develop specific policies and plans with our users in mind. The range of work that we deliver across all our strategic objectives will lead to improvements in our operational performance.
This objective is about improving the consistency and transparency of our decision making, meaning that it will be easier for people to anticipate and understand our decisions and to tell us if they think we’ve got something wrong.
We will provide people with a simple explanation of how we manage the legal aid system, increasing their ability to hold us to account.
Our project work under this objective will review a range of our policies and operational processes with the aim of making them simpler, appropriately impact assessed and with a closer alignment to our Board’s approach to risk.
This objective is about our engagement with the themes in the review of legal aid. What we are able to deliver will align with Scottish Government’s policy direction for legal aid. Our key priorities under this objective are our work on reviewing our approach to financial assessment, making more explicit the rules for assessment of fees, and working with others to develop advice for Scottish Government on fee and eligibility structures, which are both fair and easier to understand and operate.
A focus on users and good understanding of their needs is a key part of delivering this objective, but it is also about our engagement with other parts of the justice system on the legal aid implications of their policies, procedures and reforms, or the impact of legal aid changes on other parts of the system. We will engage with others where we have an interest and always with a view to protecting the interests of users of legal aid, including by pressing for consideration of user needs and appropriate impact assessment in any justice reform process.
Our business plan sets out our priorities for delivery in the financial year against our strategic objectives and the wider objectives of the Scottish Government.