Innovative councils – yes, really

Four-borough legal link shows public sector is forward-thinking. Next stop, ABS

If a problem shared is a problem halved, local authority legal teams have it about right. In response to the biggest public sector cutbacks in a generation, legal teams at neighbouring authorities are turning to each other for support.

But can a problem be quartered? While pairing up has worked rather nicely so far – newly-weds in recent years include the London Boroughs of Barnet and Harrow, Lambeth and Southwark, and Hammersmith & Fulham getting it on with Kensington & Chelsea – proposed budgets for 2013/14 expose further cuts and lawyers are having to get more imaginative. Last week the UK’s first four-borough shared legal service – between London’s Merton, Kingston, Sutton and Richmond councils – formed the South London Legal Partnership.

The Merton-based service should be good news for south London’s taxpayers. By operating as an integrated team of 90 lawyers the aim is to save the authorities a combined £600,000 over four years. For the lawyers, it means most kept their jobs – four people took redundancy following the merger compared with six following the tie-up between Merton and Richmond in 2011.

In the short term there will be no impact on the use of external firms, although a spokesperson for the service said this will be reviewed.

Next up for cost-cutting are likely to be neighbouring London authorities Lambeth and Southwark, which will discuss the prospect of an ABS spin-off at the end of the month. Who said public sector legal services were stuffy?