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You can always rely on Kent County Council (KCC) for a good story. Local authorities might not get everyone’s pulses racing, but ever since KCC started punting out its own lawyers to handle work for rivals it’s blazed a trail in the public sector.
And now, as our lead story reveals, it’s mulling over taking that model and going nuclear with it by targeting a private sector client base. If plans go ahead KCC’s in-house legal team would either become the first public sector organisation to transform itself into an alternative business structure (ABS) or it will become a wholly owned company to manage private sector work. Either way, the KCC lawyers who already handle work for other authorities could soon be pitching for jobs against firms they currently instruct.
This time it’s not only other local authorities that will be watching closely and potentially following suit - any private sector firm handling public sector work is going to have its eyes glued to developments.
But is the move wise? There are many questions. How many of the 96 lawyers currently inhabiting the authority’s in-house team will get jobs at the new place once their salaries have been chopped from KCC’s books? How is the new outfit going to guarantee it will get KCC’s work once it’s just another firm in an overcrowded market, which needs another mid-market public sector-focused player like George Osborne needs a new axe. And what will happen to KCC’s brand for public sector work, Law:Public, the scheme launched just months ago and which features regional firm Geldards?
Most intriguingly, what would happen to the architect of that deal and the man behind KCC’s recent prominence Geoff Wild? It’s hard not to see this move as anything other than a sidelining of the KCC legal boss. As we reported earlier this month, Wild’s job is already in doubt as part of a restructure intended to save £330m in the next four years.
Wild’s fondness for making headlines might not suit everyone at KCC, but it is indisputable that the authority owes him a great deal for raising its profile. Now it may be about to embark on a radical new plan sans Wild.
As some joker once said: “Wild? I’m absolutely livid.”