Monday, 21 January 2013

No Winners, All Fees

Have you heard the one about the "No Winners, All Fees" lawyers? They've been particularly busy over the past couple of years and they're coming to a town near you.

The latest example was brought to my attention by a local journalist who tweeted about a Sheffield law centre looking to pursue action against the Council for an alleged lack of consultation over "a decision" to change early years provision. The minor flaws in their case being that the Council aren't due to make any decisions until next month at the earliest and the consultation is still ongoing. In fact, I'd attended a consultation event that very day.

I'm as concerned as anyone about these proposals. They directly affect the nursery attended by one of my children, and the actual provision I'm hoping my baby will receive in time to come. I've even signed a petition to register that concern. But, I am totally against any threat of legal action. Because the wider issue we should all be bothered about is "To what extent will it benefit us?"

Apart those who have lived in a cave for the past five years, we all know that the money has run out and cuts have to be made. Let's just say a legal challenge - to this, or any other Council decision - is successful. Will it end the world recession? Will it solve the funding gap in public services? No.

Actually, the outcome will be that the Council runs up bills to defend itself, has to spend more money repeating the consultation, and still has to end up making at least the same level of cuts, and possibly in an even less palatable way. There are no winners, except the lawyers who are eyeing up a quick buck at taxpayers' expense.

The Sheffield Law Centre isn't the first, and it won't be the last. They should take the time to actually take part in the consultation, which is still ongoing. I asked difficult questions and am not exactly pleased at the outcome. But I am satisfied at least that due process has been followed. Legal action should be a last resort. We are all losers when it becomes the first one.

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