19 May 2008
"I never realised that anything could be that good," says the first chair of the Legal Services Board (LSB). Unfortunately David Edmonds is not talking about his new job. Edmonds is actually talking so passionately about the joys of Wagner, an obsession which started after he saw The Flying Dutchman.
But his new job as chair of the Legal Services Board could prove to be just as operatic.
His experience is expansive, ranging from being the Housing Corporation's chief executive to a spell as managing director at NatWest to chairing the NHS Direct board.
Edmonds says his five-year stint as the Oftel director general is one of the highlights of his career to date. And it is this experience that landed him the LSB role.
"I was director general during a period of high pressure, with BT opening up its networks and the changes in access to the internet," he says. "It was fantastic to be so involved in such huge changes to the market and to see end benefit to the consumer."
It is this notion of giving the consumer the best deal that really drives Edmonds and it will be the force behind how he creates the new legal services regulator.
"After all, the LSB's about putting the citizen first," Edmonds points out. "I want to make the LSB a world-class agency and my time at Oftel and the Housing Corporation has given me clear ideas about how to go about this.
"Before steaming ahead, we need evidential proof that the direction we're heading in is the correct one. It needs to be analysed and there must be transparency about what the Legal Services Board will do."
His immediate challenge is to ensure that the members of the board are put in place. So far Edmonds has managed to cut down his original 300-applicant list to 90. So there is a tad more work to do.
Once the board is in place Edmonds' second challenge will be to ensure that the LSB will comply with the parameters set by Parliament and the findings of Sir David Clementi.
"The system as it stands is said to be too complicated and fragmented with gaps," explains Edmonds. "It's this that needs to be addressed by us, along with the regulatory arms of the Bar Council and Law Society."
Edmonds will need to play the political game to get what he wants. Fortunately he has honed skills in how to compete in the political marketplace. In addition to being a senior civil servant and a founding member of Ofcom's board, he was also private secretary to Michael Heseltine while he was Environment Minister.
"These experiences are going to really help in my role as chair, as it's given me strong insights into how Parliament really operates," he comments.
The final string to Edmonds' bow is his legal experience. Although not a lawyer, he has for the last four years been a commissioner at the Legal Services Commission (LSC).
This means that Edmonds already has pull with the Bar Standards Board and the Solicitors Regulation Authority due to working with them in relation to the changes being wrought to the legal aid system.
"The commissioner role was billed as a job helping people who have nowhere to go for legal advice. The idea of actively assisting the public really appealed to me, and now of course there's added benefits, as I know many of the players in the market already," Edmonds enthuses.
On the troubles facing the LSC over legal aid, Edmonds says he feels it is doing a solid job considering the difficult balancing act it must perform.
"The [Legal Services] Commission has successfully extended the number of ;people ;that ;receive ;active assistance, which I feel is impressive when you look at the fact they have a very controlled budget to meet," argues Edmonds. "There are, of course, big issues that need to be talked through, such as ensuring that there are clearer arrangements with the Law Society and Bar Council."
Whether the LSC can ride the legal aid storm is one point Edmonds will not comment on, trotting out the old cliché: "We'll simply have to wait and see."
The consummate politician.