SRA defends ABS authorisation delay

SRA tells LSB what it thinks of being criticised over plodding ABS process

Antony Townsend
Townsend: no apologies

Waiting is one of life’s hardships, so says Lemony Snicket, a character in children’s book The Reptile Room. This may strike a chord with firms in the slow-moving queue for an alternative business structure (ABS) licence. So is it a Series of Unfortunate Events blocking entrants from getting the thumbs-up?

The SRA has been criticised for dragging its heels on authorisation, but chief executive Antony Townsend insists his team “makes no apology” for being thorough. Last September the Legal Services Board (LSB) appeared to support that view, with chairman David Edmonds expressing satisfaction with the speed of implementation.

Last week the board seemed to change its stance, with its latest report on the SRA stating: “More needs to be done to improve performance in the authorisation of ABSs, a process which has resulted in significant delays. IT delays, which have had a negative effect on risk identification and supervision, need to be overcome.”

Dear oh dear. But a series of unfortunate events it is not – at least, that is what the SRA insists. It responded to the LSB report by telling it to, well, step back.

“We disagree with some of the detailed conclusions reached by the LSB […], particularly in relation to our enforcement activity,” it said. “Our concern [is] that the LSB’s approach is sometimes too narrowly focused on certain regulatory objectives without proper regard for the wider picture, or the respective roles of the LSB and the frontline regulators.”

In other words, the SRA will carry on regardless.