London’s Merton and Richmond authorities to merge legal functions

The London Boroughs of Merton and Richmond upon Thames have been given the green light to merge legal services in a move that could slash legal costs by 20 per cent.

The news comes after a six-month interim arrangement in which Merton’s head of legal and electoral services Helen White filled the same vacant post at Richmond.

The combined legal team is on course to become fully operational by October 2011, when the legal function will be based in Merton. The councils will also appoint a new joint head of legal to work alongside White.

Staff from Richmond and Merton will be invited to take part in a formal consultation about the proposed new structure. While full details of the merger will be determined by the boroughs’ chief executives in coming months, the councils claim the initiative will reduce costs by around £100,000 a year.

“By merging the two teams, Merton and Richmond will have a more cost-effective and resilient service,” said White. “There will also be opportunities for the current legal staff to obtain different skills by working with a larger client base within the new legal service.”

Merton Council cabinet member for finance councillor Mark Allison added: “Because there’ll be more in-house expertise we won’t need to hire as many expensive external lawyers, and so we’ll have a better service and make some of the savings we need to make in one of the most financially difficult times ever seen in local government.”

Earlier this month the three London councils of Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster, unveiled plans to merger back office functions, including legal (9 February 2011).