Local authority chiefs press watchdog over ABS delay

The SRA has attended a meeting with local authority legal heads over the processing of their ABS applications, with public sector chiefs complaining that the process is slow and bureaucratic.

The watchdog is under fire over ABS delays with sources arguing that the process is only suited to private companies. “We’re effectively being judged like any other business, it’s like they’re trying to licence a bank,” said one source. 

The argument was put forward at a meeting in Birmingham two weeks ago, shortly after the SRA appointed a caseworker to look after the applications.

Buckinghamshire County Council (BCC) head of legal Anne Davies and Harrow’s director of legal governance Hugh Peart are understood to have been among those to have called for the meeting.

BCC applied for the licence in December, after announcing a collaboration with the Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Fire Authority (2 January 2014). The move mirrors that of London Boroughs’ Barnet and Harrow, which merged their legal teams in 2012 (5 April 2012) and together became the first local authority to apply for an ABS conversion (20 November 2013). 

Other councils have now held off on their ABS submissions while the regulator reconsiders the requirements councils need in order to gain the licence. 

Other authorities considering the move include Kent County Council and the London Borough of Lambeth (18 March 2013), the latter of which is considering two ABSs – a ‘safe’ one that is tied to the borough – safe because the team can be awarded contracts  without a procurement process –  and an ABS which is entirely separate from the authority. 

A wide variety of firms have now been granted ABS licences, from Co-operative Legal Services, which was one of the first licencees (28 March 2012), to the likes of national firm Simpson Millar, which received its licence in February (6 February 2013).

The SRA declined to comment.

Read more in this week’s feature: Local authority law: Public enterprise