Four-borough shared legal service gets go ahead

The legal teams at the London boroughs of Merton, Kingston, Sutton and Richmond are to merge following final approval from Merton Council.

Merton, which merged its legal capability with Richmond in 2011 (28 February 2011), is to lead the 80-strong shared service, believed to be the first of its kind to incorporate four boroughs.

The tie-up is set to save the authorities a combined £600,000 over the next four years, with costs expected to be reduced on office overheads as all the teams will eventually be based under one roof in Merton, and instructions on external lawyers.

Firms that the legal team at Merton and Richmond currently use include Bevan Brittan and Weightmans, while Paul Evans remains legal chief (8 September 2011).

A spokesperson for Merton council said that no redundancies had been confirmed as the four councils are still working out a structure for the shared service, which will be operational by October this year. When Merton and Richmond merged there were six redundancies.

“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,” commented Merton councillor Stephen Alambritis in a statement.

Kingston Council head Derek Osbourne added: “Councils continue to face significant financial challenges and sharing support service functions is an effective way of reducing costs whilst at the same time improving services. Feasibility studies showed that sharing legal services with Merton, Sutton and Richmond would not only save money but would also improve resilience, flexibility and responsiveness.”

Earlier this year Bristol, Manchester and Newcastle City Councils published their proposed budgets for 2013/14, exposing further cuts on spending for government legal departments (23 January 2013).

Banding together has proved popular with council legal teams following the biggest public sector cutbacks in a generation. Last year the London Boroughs of Barnet and Harrow merged (21 August 2012) while in 2011 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).

The service will be based in Merton.