Speckled by the light of a slow-spinning glitterball, some 200 pensioners are dancing the foxtrot underneath Terry Osborne’s office in Brent Town Hall.
Had The Lawyer visited earlier that week, the space occupied by the borough’s monthly tea dance could instead have been filled with the monthly flea market, the Amnesty International meeting, the Black Heroes play or the Air Cadet parade night. Say what you like about local government, it is unbeatable for variety.
Variety is a key appeal for Osborne, who left South East firm Penningtons to take the role of senior lawyer at the London Borough of Lewisham.
After working in local government for 11 years, Osborne was lured by the appeal of the private practice pay packet and joined Penningtons to work with a consultant building the planning team.
“But I was still very interested in local government work,” she says, “and the opportunity arose to manage the [Brent] team, with a brief to do procurement, planning and PFI to boot. There’s more breadth of work and more immediate challenges in local government.”
Innovation is at the heart of Brent’s legal team and the borough has been at the forefront of local government revenue-raising initiatives, handling outsourced work for other organisations.
Locally these include the Brent Housing Partnership, an arms’ length management organisation (Almo) that manages the borough’s housing stock, and the Stonebridge Housing Action Trust, another housing organisation in North West London. Brent has also put in a bid to handle freedom of information, data protection and Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act work for Leeds City Council, England’s second-largest unitary authority (The Lawyer, 11 December 2006).
“We feel we have a specialism in that area,” Osborne explains. “Obviously we’re quite a long way from Leeds and wouldn’t normally think it appropriate to do work for an authority so far away, but we felt that this is the kind of work we could do from a distance, as it doesn’t require us to attend local courts, and most of the information can be got electronically or over the phone.”
Other innovations include Osborne’s role as an architect of the West London Alliance, a consortium of London borough lawyers that includes Hammersmith & Fulham, Harrow, Hillingdon and Hounslow. The group meets quarterly to find ways by which it can share services to cut costs.
Brent also belongs to the Newham Benchmarking Club, another London local authority group launched in East London, which meets to ensure it never pays above the market rate for legal advice.
But before Osborne got involved in any of these initiatives, her first priority after joining was to sort out what she describes as Brent’s own “small and fragmented” legal team.
The drive to do this followed a review of the borough’s legal service by Eversheds local government player Judith Barnes in 2000, which recommended major recruitment in housing, employment, contracts, litigation and procurement advice. Osborne set about hiring from other boroughs and private practice in all of these areas – an investment that Osborne says saves the council “about half a million a year” in fees for external advice.
At the time the move was not universally welcomed. “It’s fair to say there was some significant resistance from some quarters, who feared that the council would lose control of its lawyers,” she says. “We did have to win over some hearts and minds.”
Regeneration is the current priority for Brent as a whole and a regeneration project is underway not only on the legendary Wembley Stadium, but also on the surrounding area and Wembley Park London Underground Station.
The hope is that the ‘Wembley Regeneration Area’, as it has been dubbed, will lead to economic and social benefits for the borough as a whole. The project has meant significant work for the borough’s lawyers, who advise on planning, Section 106 orders, compulsory purchase, infrastructure, licensing and health & safety issues.
“Some of our lawyers have got to work on some pretty high-profile regeneration and construction projects,” she adds, “so it’s an exciting time for all of us.”
Borough solicitor and monitoring officer
London Borough of Brent
|Organisation:||London Borough of Brent|
|Employees:||8,652 (including teachers)|
|Borough solicitor and monitoring officer:||Terry Osborne|
|Reporting to:||CEO Gareth Daniel|
|Legal capability worldwide:||35 fee-earners, including 30 lawyers and five legal executives|
|Main law firms in Europe:||Nabarro, Sharpe Pritchard, James Goudie and Nigel Griffin at 11 King’s Bench Walk|
|Terry Osborne’s CV||