15 May 2006
Davina Fiore's office looks out onto the majestic Alexandra Palace. An heirloom from the Greater London Council, which was abolished in 1986, the Victorian 'People's Palace' is Haringey's most distinctive landmark and serves as a convenient metaphor for the borough's situation as a whole.
"We're trying to find a developer who's prepared to do [Alexandra Palace] up and put it to use," says the head of legal services and monitoring officer. "At the moment parts of it are being used, parts not."
Similar things could be said about Haringey itself. With high unemployment, yet plans for extensive regeneration, particularly in the Tottenham area, the council is working hard to employ the borough's untapped resources of both people and space.
Although Haringey is not one of the boroughs hosting the Olympics, the event will nevertheless be valuable to its regeneration effort. "There will be jobs created because of the number of visitors, particularly in hospitality and building work," says Fiore.
In common with its Olympics-hosting neighbours, the London Boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest, Haringey also has a large number of ethnic minority inhabitants. Forty-nine per cent of the borough's residents are from ethnic minority groups and Haringey has the third-highest proportion of white Continental Europeans in London after the boroughs of Ealing and Brent. "They give the area character," Fiore says.
Most of the borough's legal work is handled by its in-house team of 50 lawyers, 20 paralegals (or 'legal assistants,' as they are known at Haringey) and one trainee. The borough only outsources legal work in specialist areas such as PFI.
Trowers & Hamlins, for instance, recently advised the borough on its 'Homes for Haringey' initiative, a scheme that put responsibility for the borough's housing stock into the hands of an external, arm's-length management committee to make it eligible for more central government funding.
Fiore says she uses different barristers on a case-by-case basis to ensure better value and prevent chambers taking the work-stream for granted. Chambers recently used have included Paper Buildings and local government specialist James Goudie QC of 11 King's Bench Walk.
Haringey is a member of the Newham Benchmarking Club, a group of 13 London borough legal heads who meet monthly to compare hourly rates, barrister fees and agency charges. The club includes Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest, which pooled their external legal spends with Newham to select a shared panel (The Lawyer, 27 March). Fiore says the shared panel venture was not initially one of interest to Haringey.
"I believe the impetus to do it originally stemmed from difficulties in recruiting high-quality childcare lawyers, a problem that Haringey wasn't experiencing," she explains.
But now that the initiative has broadened to include other legal areas, she is watching its progress carefully. "As value for money is always important, if that's a good way of getting prices down, then it's a good initiative," says Fiore.
Unlike the deal struck by the three boroughs, which have chosen the shared panel for a 'top-up' arrangement to cover day-to-day work that exceeds in-house capacity, Fiore says she would only be interested in a panel to cover work that the borough's in-house lawyers are not geared up to do.
Before joining Haringey two years ago, Fiore was director of legal and democratic services for the London Borough of Ealing for three years.
Fiore has a place on the corporate management board at Haringey, meaning she gets involved not only in legal work, but also in policy-making and strategy. "This was the main reason I left Ealing and came to Haringey," she explains. "If you're on the management board then you can influence decisions at the outset. It's much more satisfying to work that way."
Fiore is also in charge of registrations, which includes births, deaths, marriages and, most recently, civil partnerships.
Fiore enjoys her job, explaining that it "is not a traditional lawyer's role, which is what makes working for a local authority so interesting".
She adds: "I go to council meetings and work with politicians advising on strategy policies. It makes it much more varied. It's specialised, but I have a good variety and a wider range than in private practice. The downside is the evening meetings."
Haringey's legal team has Lexcel approval, the Law Society's practice management quality mark and a significant benchmark for all local authorities trying to improve service, as well as the Investors In People Standard for investment in training and development.
The team also has ISO 9001 approval, the International Standardisation Organisation's standard for quality management systems. Once graded 'weak', Haringey is now a three-star authority and is aiming to become a four-star one (the highest grade). "We want to build on that and become one of the best legal teams in London," Fiore says.
That just leaves Alexandra Palace. Developer Firoka was chosen as the preferred bidder for the site last November after submitting plans for a development that includes exhibition space, a hospitality venue, ice rink, bowling lane, theatre, cinema, health club and crèche, as well as a heritage museum.
"We need it to pay its way and it's important that it's maintained," says Fiore. Much like Haringey itself, then.
Head of legal services and monitoring office
London Borough of Haringey
|Organisation||London Borough of Haringey|
|Legal spend (including counsel)||£1.1-£2m|
|Employees||7,000 (including teachers)|
|Legal capability||50 lawyers, 20 paralegals, one trainee|
|Head of legal services and monitoring office||Davina Fiore|
|Reporting to||Chief executive director Ita O'Donovan|
|Main law firms||Bird & Bird, Eversheds, James Goudie QC (11 King's Bench Walk), Paper Building chambers, Trowers & Hamlins|