'Journalism without a moral position is impossible. Every journalist is a moralist. It's absolutely unavoidable.' Marguerite Duras
The figures are quite stupendous and dizzying. Stupendous and dizzying but oddly enough for this pitifully indigent scribbler, not surprising.
After the posting on the cost of settling disputes at the University of Salford over the last few years, the figures below were almost immediately provided to this writer by an associate. They were previously provided to him by Stephenson and Wai Yan Loh of Information Governance at UoS in response to an FOI submission.
'The annual spend on legal fees for the academic year 2005/06; 2006/07; 2007/08.
Lawyers - A fact of life
Despite featuring it in smaller print in order to try and make the sums look smaller, it's a whole lot of ackers by any measure. It is however a truism of the common-or-garden variety that any large organisation or public authority such as a University will incur legal costs. For those students of quantum mechanics, it is as unavoidable as the fundamental, unavoidable indeterminacy that supplies the universe with alternative histories. Yet when drawing any conclusions, we should bear in mind as to the primary sources of funding of a public authority such as the UoS, which is disbursed to it largely in the form of government grants under HEFCE (derived ultimately from taxes) and of course student fees.
A principle that has underlay all the issuances that have poured forth ink-like from the metaphorical pen of this writer has been the maxim that as a public authority, the University of Salford, like any other public authority and every other university of the publicly funded sort, should be frugal with public funding. Further, all costs such as 'expenses' and those spent on legal fees should rightly be monitored very closely and be provided and published in a comprehensive yet concise form for the scrutiny by the public. It goes by the names of transparency and its twin, accountability.
Value for Money
A couple of niggling questions did however spring to the fore of this rather befuddled excuse for a cranial-dwelling problem-solver. Firstly, in these days of national impecuniosity with the very real possibility of increased fees for students on the horizon, are the UoS receiving value for money from the legal firms that supply services to the University? Secondly, would it not be best to try and rationalise the delivery of these services and instead of having a list of law firms such as Pinsett Masons, Addleshaw Goddard, Hill Dickinson, and Marks & Clerk, Cobbetts, Kuit, etc*, say whittle it down to say one or two legal firms such as er....
Halliwells Heatons and Eversheds? Could these two firms with their obvious capacity not handle all the disputes, settlements, confidentiality agreements, Employment Tribunals and libel suits between them?
And just when you thought this was quite a large sum...
This writer among others, has previously on occasions raised the issues of what was widely seen by staff and students alike as profligate spending at the University of Salford. The protests against Project Headroom highlighted this. So did the satirical Vice Consul's Newsletters which lampooned managers in order to highlight the incongruity of staff being asked to sacrifice their posts in order to create financial headroom whilst the UoS invested ever increasing sums in its presence at MediaCityUK in a period of severe global economic downturn.
Thus it would appear odd that in these cash-strapped times of austerity and the 'national interest' that UoS would embark on what might be an expensive lawsuit. Yes, this author can confirm that that senior managers at UoS have pump-primed their metaphorical sat-navs, adjusted their sextants, instructed their legal navigator Chair of Audit on University Council Mr Ian Austin, and are punching in the coordinates for a very expensive destination known as invest even greater sums in the legal system through the use of the good old freedom of speech protecting English libel laws.
Full steam ahead
You may recall this journey from previous expensive high-profile libel trials. It runs adjacent to cross lawyers and barristers palms with buckets of gold, and concludes somewhere near the Sirius Binary system about 8.7 light years yonder. Along this path we will observe the almost magical manner with which vast sums of tax payers hard-earned and student fees are alchemically converted into fees of a legal variety. A negative into a positive so to speak depending on whether you're studying or practising law.
If nothing else, it promises to be a long journey conducted in the press and more importantly for this writer, under the harsh scrutiny of an increasingly penurious public. As for whom will ultimately stand in the dock, as it progresses behemoth-like, it is likely it will consume vast sums of money, many reputations (both personal and institutional) and careers as it will footfalls, freedoms and years.
Yet there is a final and more pertinent and materialistic question that is nibbling at the peripheral leg-endings of a threadbare pair of 1970s Falmer jeans that have quite obviously seen better decades, and that question is this. In a period of austerity imposed from above, is a 'lorra...lorra...'** money spent on legal fees, barristers and lawyers really the best use of taxpayers pounds and student fees? Answers on a postcard please to: Vice Chancellor Martin Hall, C/O the Old Fire Station, Salford.
A date for your diaries:
A hearing in the manner of things deemed libellous...
University of Salford
University of Salford
Dr Gary Paul Duke
2pm, 22 November
Manchester District Registry.
Civil Justice Centre
*Firms said to represent UoS in above FOI requests (undated)
** Courtesy of Cilla Black the singer