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THE Legal Aid Board (LAB) is threatening to slash pay among its senior staff, according to an internal report leaked to The Lawyer.
The First Division Association (FDA) union is accusing the LAB of planning to freeze the salaries of existing staff until inflation decreases their value by 30 per cent, and of introducing lower salaries for incoming staff.
It claims the cuts are an attempt to plug a £3m administrative budget deficit.
The LAB is strongly denying there is a deficit, or that it will make any pay cuts.
The FDA says about 800 LAB staff will be affected by the changes, contained in recommendations made following a pay and conditions review by independent consultants the Hay Group.
But the salaries of LAB chief executive Steve Orchard, who earns £99,288, all five members of the executive board and the senior personnel manager will be unaffected, while the 13 area managers will be awarded pay increases.
The FDA also claims that it is "general knowledge among LAB board members that the board is facing a £3m administration budget deficit" - the first time the LAB's administrative budget has been in the red for nine years, mainly due to administrative problems in rolling out its flagship computer system, Corporate Information System.
According to the internal LAB document, the existing pay scales will be "frozen until those proposed in this paper have caught up with them".
It says that the average value of solicitors' and account managers' salaries in the London area will be reduced from a maximum of £49,526 to £36,000. Starting salaries will drop from £27,189 to £25,500.
Robyn Dasey, assistant general secretary at the FDA which represents senior LAB staff, says: "This reduction in pay will inevitably lead to a lower quality of staff.
"The management proposals anticipate that in the future private practice solicitors seeking legal aid will deal with non-legally qualified staff at the LAB."
But an LAB spokesman says: "The LAB's administration budget will balance as it has done throughout the nine years of the board's existence.
"In preparation for the transition to the Legal Services Commission and the new remit, we have reviewed roles and responsibilities, initially within the Board's area offices, and implemented a new structure, including contracts managers.
"We have invited the Hay Group to evaluate the roles and market rates and have developed recommendations for a pay strategy on which we are currently consulting our staff."