Death by a Thousand Cuts

At the new Durham Unitary Authority, council leaders are serious about saving money.

This traditionally left-leaning council has embraced the modern fashion for efficiency with gusto – the motto of the new chief executive is “lean and mean”, which tells you all you need to know.

But there are budget cuts and then there are budget cuts. It emerged last month that the budget for external legal spend was cut from several million to £60,000 following the merger of all the region’s local councils on April 1. That’s right – £60,000 (see story June 22).

Linda Walker, who headed the legal function throughout the merger, has now left to join Dickinson Dees, leaving her assistant head of legal Colette Longbottom in charge.

Longbottom has a daunting job – perhaps one of the toughest in the entire public sector. She has to bring together a diverse group of council lawyers from across the county, and forge them into a unit so efficient that it effectively removes the need for external counsel.

And all against the backdrop of a new regional body still trying to find its feet.

We wish Colette the very best of luck – she’s going to need it.