Law Society hit by strike threat

Law Society investigative staff are threatening to strike – ostensibly over a reduction in their car allowances by £30 per month.

A total of 41 MSF union members in two departments – the monitoring unit and the investigation accountants – have voted to authorise strike action over a reduction in monthly car allowances from £370 to £340.

However, in a memo dispatched last week to members of the society's council, secretary general Jane Betts told council members that the staff's strike ballot was “in reality over the continuing uncertainty” about a long-standing plan to merge the units.

She says she has now decided to go ahead with the merger, bringing the 45 staff at the monitoring unit in Redditch together with the 31 investigation accountants who are based at the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors (OSS) in Leamington Spa.

“The merger has been mooted for a couple of years,” she said. “The members of staff at the units are understandably anxious about their future which has, as they see it, been in the balance for that time.”

She added: “Several have shown support for a merger.”

However, the MSF was unavailable for comment on how its members would react to the merger decision.

Staff at both units spend most of the week driving to law firms around the country. The monitoring unit, which is part of the Professional Standards Directorate under John Randall, checks compliance with the Financial Services Act.

The forensic accountants at the OSS, under Peter Ross, visit firms following tip offs, and carry out more detailed analyses of the accounts of firms suspected of fraud.

Betts says that a merger will mean that if serious problems are found during a monitoring visit, they can be investigated immediately rather than after referral to a separate body.

Barbara Cahalane, Law Society spokeswoman, said all 76 staff in the units would be retained following the merger.

A former senior Law Society official said: “Staff at the monitoring unit will be unhappy at being removed from the control of their immediate boss Bob Butler, and the accountants may feel their role is being diluted. This will be viewed as a victory for Peter Ross, seen as Jane Betts' man, and a defeat for John Randall, former secretary general John Hayes' man.”