The merger of legal services between the London Boroughs of Barnet and Harrow is set to go ahead in September despite the local authorities originally planning to have the tie-up completed by the end of July.
The boroughs have re-issued a statement saying that they are now due to merge on 1 September, with first operational day being 3 September. The shared legal service, which will see Barnet’s legal team move to Harrow, is expected to save the authorties an estimated £4.4m over the next five years. The deal was first mooted earlier this year (5 April 2012).
Harrow head of legal Jessica Farmer, who will become manager of the service in September, said the three-month delay was down to “wanting to get things completely right,” with each council instructing lawyers to go over the agreement and not due to any conflict.
There are concerns, however, that the deal would constitute a takeover by Harrow Council of Barnet’s legal services.
Harrow Council denied claims, stating that the pairing would be mutually beneficial. “A lot of in-house councils are reducing staff, we’re bringing them together,” Farmer said, estimating combined lawyer headcount of between 60 and 70 . “Each council will learn from the other and there will be considerable savings made on bringing in outsource work,” she added.
Banding together has proved popular with council legal teams following the biggest public sector cutbacks in a generation. Last year the London Boroughs of Merton and Richmond upon Thames merged their legal departments in a bid to slash legal costs by 20 per cent (28 February 2011) while the councils of Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea integrated their legal departments after abandoning plans for a three-way combination with Westminster City Council (23 May 2011).