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The London boroughs of Harrow and Barnet, which recently merged their legal groups, have become the second local authority in-house team to be awarded an alternative business structure (ABS) licence, following Buckinghamshire County Council last week.
Yesterday the merged legal team of Harrow and Barnet councils HB Public Law (HBPL), which was advised by Bevan Brittan partner Iain Miller, was awarded an ABS licence by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). The licence was granted on 8 August and becomes effective on 1 December 2014.
Bevan Brittan has now advised on both local authority ABS conversions. Partner Peter Steel advised Buckinghamshire County Council on its successful ABS application for Buckinghamshire Law Plus, a collaboration between Buckinghamshire County Council and Milton Keynes Fire Authority. It gained approval last week (8 August 2014).
HBPL was launched in 2012 as the merger of Harrow and self-proclaimed ‘easyCouncil’ Barnet’s legal departments, creating a 70-strong legal team (5 April 2012).
The move was prompted by the need to provide more service in specialist areas where the council had previously turned to external firms. It estimated it could save around £190,000 in three years in accommodation and management costs and up to £4.4m on external lawyers over five years.
Bevan Brittan senior partner Bethan Evans advised on the HBPL tie-up. The council entered into a partnership with Bevan Brittan in November last year to offer legal advice to clients (20 November 2013). Bevan Brittan also took up the mandate to advise on HBPL’s application for an SRA licence.
Harrow head of legal services Jessica Farmer will now be head of legal practice for the ABS while Hugh Peart, the body’s director and Harrow’s director of legal and governance services, will be head of finance and administration.
A growing number of local authorities are considering ABS licences as a solution to swingeing budget cuts. The UK’s 363 local authorities expect to have 30 per cent taken out of their budgets between 2008 and 2015, with local government’s share of the economy set to fall from 5.1 per cent to 3.6 per cent, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (24 March 2014).
Taking on an ABS licence should enable HB Public Law and Buckinghamshire Law Plus to generate extra income amid on-going cuts and resist privatisation.
Cambridgeshire County Council is also considering setting up an ABS vehicle in a bid to cut the council’s legal expenditure. The team merged its legal function with Northamptonshire County Council’s in 2010 but had not yet submitted its application earlier this year (26 March 2014).
Kent County Council and the London Borough of Lambeth (18 March 2013) have also joined the bandwagon and are considering converting to ABS.
Lambeth is considering two ABSs - a ‘safe’ one that is tied to the borough - safe because the team can be awarded contracts without a procurement process - and another which is entirely separate from the authority.