Price top of agenda in external work

PRICING is the "great unresolved conundrum" when local authorities are outsourcing legal work, London Borough of Croydon's solicitor to the council Miles Smith said last week.

Speaking at the annual weekend school for local government lawyers, he said a substantial part of his local authority's legal work, which was outsourced to local practice Stoneham Langton & Passmore, was hourly rated.

He said this was not satisfactory although he knew of no other way to do it.

He said local authorities should not underestimate the contract management task.

On a more upbeat note, he said that the result of externalisation of legal services was a "much more responsible use of resources from some quarters" which lead to better price accountability.

For example, if the head of trading and standards undertook 10 extra prosecutions, there was an awareness that it would cost the local authority extra money.

The price to be paid, however, was "loss of control and feedback" and the inability to "open doors and shout down the corridor".

Stoneham Langton & Passmore managing partner told delegates about the redundancies at his firm caused by Croydon legal staff joining it as a condition of TUPE.

He said the firm took on 30 people and lost five because the work was 10-15 per cent less than originally expected. This was because anticipated volumes were based on estimates of work done in previous years.

The drop in work was partly a result of council staff using legal services less because they were externalised and, in part, because of a change in the political colour of the council.