Hugh Peart: London Borough of Harrow

Hugh Peart’s love of innovation has driven him to find new ways to decrease legal spend and streamline work. By Jon Parker

Hugh Peart joined the London Borough of Harrow almost 20 years ago as a principal solicitor in the borough’s childcare law team.

Now director of legal and governance services, it was a fitting start given the council’s most innovative move of recent years. In February the North London suburb became the country’s first-ever local authority to outsource its adoption service (The Lawyer, 26 February).

Led by in-house lawyer Stephen Dorrian, the deal handed management of the service to children’s charity Coram Family. It is a prominent example of the ’charitisation’ phenomenon, in which the Government has encouraged local authorities to outsource public services to third-sector organisations.

It was a bold initiative, but Peart remains humble and plays down its significance.

“Nobody’s outsourced their adoption function before, so it’s interesting from that point of view,” he says. “But taking a step back, we run 700 services here and, as managers, we’re constantly asking ourselves why we’re doing things and whether someone else could do it better and cheaper than we can.”

Peart says the entrepreneurial spirit evident at Harrow is “part of a constant review of services that a manager of any service should have”.

But, when pressed on the topic, Peart says innovation is essential when it comes to paying for services in a borough that has “a sadly unique budget problem”.

“When people think of Harrow, they think of a leafy borough with a posh school,” he says. “And while that’s not wrong – we are a leafy borough, and there is a posh school – those characteristics overshadow the fact that we’re also a very deprived borough, and that’s a central message for our communications team.”

In his unusual dual role as both director of legal and governance services and head of communication, Peart leads an ongoing campaign to attract new funding from central government. But in the meantime, functions such as the legal team are forced to innovate to save cash.

“We’re the first to take decisions that, if we had a bit more money, we could probably shy away from,” Peart says. “It really brings the lawyers out to the forefront and forces us into making difficult decisions that work the legal staff harder.”

In 2004 Peart reviewed the council’s legal function, increasing the number of lawyers in-house in order to decrease the size of the borough’s external legal spend.

His conclusion was that the team was seven to eight lawyers short and he has since recruited solicitors, including a practice manager and specialists with expertise in contracts and employment law. He has also installed practice management software to streamline volume work.

Peart says the initiative has already paid dividends in cutting down the external legal spend required in Harrow’s project to redevelop the town centre.

“The legal team has the trust of the council now,” Peart explains. “If we’d got to a point where we do something big and they think, ’we need to get help on this’, I simply wouldn’t have done my job properly,” he says.

Peart is a proselytiser for innovation in local government generally and argues that “one of the things that’s often missing from people’s perception of local government is the difficulty of getting a lot done with very little money. That shapes your perception of how to get things done quickly and with the minimum expense.”

As part of this Peart is on the lookout for lawyers who want to join local government for the experience, albeit not for life.

“We’re looking for people who’ll move on,” he says. “The idea that people can get from us what they can before moving on is one that’s quite alright with me – movers and shakers are just what I’m looking for.”
Hugh Peart
Director of legal and governance services
London Borough of Harrow

Organisation: London Borough of Harrow
Sector: Local government
Number of employees: 8000
Director of legal and governance services: Hugh Peart
Reporting to : Chief executive Michael Lockwood
Legal capability: 30 solicitors
Main Law firms/chambers: Denton Wilde Sapte, Sharp Pritchard, 11 King’s Bench Walk, 4-5 Gray’s Inn Square
Hugh Peart’s CV Education:
1978-82 – Law and Sociology Degree, Keele;
1983 – Masters in Criminology, Trinity Hall, Cambridge;
1990-92 – Masters in Business Administration, Birmingham University
Work History:
1986 – assistant solicitor, London Borough of Merton;
1988 – principal solicitor, London Borough of Harrow;
2004 – director of legal services, Harrow;
2007 – director of legal and governance services, Harrow