The implications of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) for local government legal services will be immense.
With public sector spending cuts to hit 19 per cent over four years, cumulative real growth in central government contributions to local government spending will reduce by 26 per cent and growth in local government spending as a whole will decrease by 14 per cent. In total seven per cent will be cut from local government budgets.
Corporate director of governance at Birmingham City Council Mirza Ahmad said: “At one level it could’ve been a lot worse, but clearly local government legal departments will have to play their part in ensuring that appropriate savings are made. This’ll be either through additional income sources or reducing total staff, including lawyers. The pain will be across the board.”
But some thought that it would present an opportunity for further sharing of legal services.
“There will undoubtedly be pressure on back office functions – including legal – to protect frontline services,” said Quentin Baker, director of legal services for the newly merged legal departments of Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire County Councils. “We’ll need to be even more vigilant than normal. Shared services has got to be higher up people’s agenda now.”
But Baker thought that in the immediate period demand for legal services was unlikely to diminish.
“The demand for legal services in employment and contract outsourcing over the next two years will be at a premium,” he said. “There’ll be around 500,000 public sector redundancies. That puts additional pressure on those who are left, which in itself will create additional employment issues. When [cuts] have happened in the past, the reaction has been to dash for the outsourcing option and there’ll be a necessity for robust contractual arrangements.”
Other public sector legal departments have already started winding down in anticipation of their abolition. Legal staff at regional development agency One North East, for example, which is to be scrapped by the government by March 2012, have already found jobs elsewhere in the public, private and third sectors.