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Public sector poster boy Geoff Wild is at it again. Not content with generating a £1.42m profit for Kent County Council (KCC) in 2008-09 - which was used to fund frontline services and allowed the authority to set the lowest council tax rise in its history - the legal chief has teamed up with regional firm Geldards to punt out services to public bodies across England and Wales.
The thinking behind the scheme, dubbed ’Law:Public’, is simple. Local authority legal departments are likely to see their budgets slashed in April 2011, but after pioneering a private practice model that sells legal services to public bodies in the South East, KCC is well-placed to lend a helping hand.
Hooking up with Geldards, which has offices in the Midlands and Wales, means it can roll out its model on a much larger scale.
Wild clearly has the public sector in his blood: having trained at Greater London Council in the 1980s, he had stints at Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council and the London Borough of Wandsworth before taking up his role at KCC two decades ago - but his approach to legal services is wholly commercial.
Although Geldards will drop its partner hourly rate by more than £100, it will be hoping the volume of work generated will more than mitigate the reduction. KCC, meanwhile, is freezing its rate at £90.
But with the overall savings that could be made to the public purse, Law:Public appears about as altruistic as a commercial venture can get. It’s hardly surprising, then, that Geldards would want a piece of the action. Chairman David Williams is ingenuous about his firm’s motivation, saying: “I want us to be seen as a friend to the public sector.”
With places on panels operated by the London Boroughs Legal Alliance, the Treasury Solicitor and seven Welsh government bodies, arguably the firm already has the friendship bit in the bag.
But there is always the risk that local authorities that are fighting for their survival could view this as more of a predatory move than a helping hand. In which case Geldards might be dubbed public enemy number one.