Lib Dem leader attacks use of Slaughters

Manchester City Council is under attack from the local leader of the Liberal Democrats for its decision to use Slaughter and May as its legal adviser.

Following a report in The Lawyer (12 February), councillor Simon Ashley has sent an email to the city solicitor requesting details on why the work was not tendered, the cost of using Slaughters and whether Best Value, an initiative introduced under the Local Government Act 1999, was achieved.

Ashley says: “Following an article in your paper, I've sent an email to the city solicitor to seek clarification on a number of points.”

Slaughters, an adviser to Manchester City Council for nearly 15 years, acted for the local authority on the redevelopment work following the bomb attack in 1996.

This includes the redevelopment of the Arndale Centre, the Shambles site and the building of Europe's largest Marks & Spencer. Manchester City Council is the freeholder in each of these projects.

Under the Best Value initiative the local authority must ensure that it is receiving high-quality services at the best price. As rev

ealed in The Lawyer, senior property partner David Beales, who is in charge of the relationship at the firm, charges an estimated £500 an hour.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats in Manchester says there are a number of reviews of services being undertaken by the council at the moment which have resulted in actual or proposed closures.

Last week the city council decided to close a number of local housing offices. Local leisure facilities are being reviewed, including five locally-run pools and the new £30m Commonwealth Games Swimming Complex.

Ashley says: “[The council] is using the initiative as a stick to say whether services provide best value, but when it comes to legal services, I don't know that it's measured by the same metre. The council expects its services to have the best value, and they have to go through rigorous standards to see if they're using the services properly.”

The city solicitor and her deputy were unavailable for comment.