Better together?

The latest bout of merger talks between London borough councils will see Merton, Kingston, Sutton and Richmond join forces to form a four-borough shared legal service based out of Merton.

The decision follows the 2011 merger between Merton and Richmond’s legal divisions and is tipped to save all four authorities a combined £600,000 over the next four years.

Although there were six redundancies when Merton and Richmond merged two years ago, no redundancies have yet been confirmed for the new four-pronged shared service.

Considerable savings are already expected to be made by virtue of reducing office overheads: from October the four divisions, which together comprise an 80-strong team, will all be under one roof in Merton. The cost-cutting measures will also inevitably affect the services’ external lawyers, although it remains to be seen exactly how much the shared service will have to scale back its reliance on outside counsel.

Commenting on the merger, Merton councillor Stephen Alambritis said the tie-up would be a positive thing for the four boroughs going forward: “The success of Merton and Richmond’s shared legal services since 2011 has proved that joining forces with other boroughs can make a positive difference in providing a quality in-house legal service while making significant financial savings.”

This is not the first time that London boroughs have gone down the merger route in response to growing pressure to cut costs. The London Boroughs of Barnet and Harrow, Merton and Richmond upon Thames and Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea are just some of the local authorities that have teamed up with each other to reduce legal spend in recent years.

Last month Manchester, Newcastle and Bristol City Councils also revealed that they were facing tough targets to cut their costs over the next three years.

It’s a sign of the times.