It is in the most extraordinary circumstances that I welcome you to April’s column. I know you will understand that this month there is only one subject which is relevant. We are in the grip of a pandemic the consequences of which have had and will have profound professional and personal consequences for every one of us. The first and most important thing for me is to offer my very best wishes to you all and hope that you stay safe and well.
I am conscious that this situation extends far beyond the interests of our profession and impacts not only on our lives but on everyone’s around the world. However, I am sure you will forgive me for focusing here on the issues which most closely affect us just now. You will quite rightly look to the Society, as your professional body, for guidance and leadership.
The CEO and Senior Leadership team promptly implemented the Society’s business continuity strategy. Closing the office and making provision to allow staff to work at home was an enormous logistical task. Nevertheless, it was carried out quickly and efficiently, and that allowed the Society to be in a position to respond as rapidly as possible to the challenges presented by the Government placing the country in lockdown. This was due in large part to the fantastic effort of the IT team, who worked tirelessly to make sure everyone was connected and online as quickly as possible.
Constant search for solutions
We fully appreciate that other organisations have had to make important and difficult decisions immediately, in response to a situation which changed on not only a daily but often hourly basis. We understand that prevented them from engaging in any meaningful consultation before arriving at their decision and announcing it. The Society responded as quickly as possible to these unexpected developments, which have had such a significant impact on your practices. We sought clarity about these announcements and looked for workable solutions.
Most challenging for our conveyancing colleagues and their clients was the unexpected and unprecedented closure of the Registers of Scotland. There was no option but to recommend the suspension of settlement of all transactions. I am enormously grateful to the Properly Law Committee and the Society team which worked, without exaggeration, day and night to find a short term solution to the problem.
It was an extraordinary achievement to bring so many of the leading lenders onside in such a short period of time.
We are confident an acceptable solution for the duration of the crisis will be found by way of emergency legislation.
On the subject of financial institutions, I have written to the main banks inviting them to be patient, to extend lending facilities as far as possible and continue to support our usually robust and financially successful profession. We, as taxpayers, had no choice but to support them during a crisis which was entirely of their own making. This situation is certainly not of our making and we do not think it is unreasonable to expect the banks to support us now.
Together we can pull through
We will continue to communicate with you as quickly as possible to provide guidance and advice following announcements from the Scottish Government, SCTS, Registers of Scotland, COPFS and SLAB. We expect that by the time you read this, some significant emergency legislation will have been passed. We will not have the usual length of time to scrutinise and advise. We will stay on guard to ensure the appropriate balance is found between what is necessary to keep us safe, and fundamental principles and freedoms.
I am greatly encouraged by the ingenious ways that you have found to reduce the professional and personal isolation we are all feeling. In my first ever column in June of last year, I said that I could look no further than the members for inspiration. Everything that has happened since then has reinforced and enhanced that opinion. I am certain that we will strengthen the bonds of our collegiate profession and work together to overcome our difficulties.
I will leave you with the promise that everyone at the Society is fully committed to do everything possible to assist you and your businesses. In the meantime, please follow the advice to stay at home and do all you can to protect yourselves, your loved ones and all those around you.