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Shared legal service in South East to pursue enhanced collaboration

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A shared legal service set up by three local authorities in Kent is to press ahead with enhanced collaboration, including by appointing a head of legal to lead the partnership.

Mid-Kent Legal Service – comprising Swale, Tunbridge Wells and Maidstone councils – has been operational since 2009.

In a statement to full council earlier this month, Swale’s Leader, Cllr Andrew Bowles, admitted that the original model was never fully implemented due to recruitment difficulties.

“However, there was significant evidence that most of the original objectives had been progressed, including a reduction in expenditure on external legal advice,” he added.

Swale is to become the host authority and will merge the Head of Legal Partnership with the council’s Head of Legal and Democratic Services post.

In addition to appointing a head of legal, Mid Kent Legal Service is also planning to hire a business development manager.

The revised staffing structure will also see changes to reporting lines.

A report to council said there were a range of other options for the shared service before deciding on this course of action. These included: outsourcing; changing partners; pooling budgets; co-locating staff; and TUPE transfers.

Both the joint chief executives’ meeting and the Mid Kent Improvement Partnership Board concluded that the original model should still be pursued, but supported by a different management and staffing structure.

The report revealed that alternative options put forward during a staff consultation that were not accepted were to maintain the status quo or to delay implementation of the new staffing structure until the head of partnership was in post. It was also suggested – and rejected – that the current model should be completely abandoned.

The proposed legal structure can be viewed here.

Cllr Bowles said: “By completing the implementation of the legal shared service, Swale will build on improvements already made: for example, all the MKLS sites have now achieved the Law Society’s Practice Management Standard (Lexcel); with no ‘non-compliances’ in Swale.

“The collaboration will also provide additional capacity and resilience using existing budgets, enable access to a broader range of legal services, and increase the potential to generate income, so delivering the Vision for the shared legal service agreed by the MKIP Board in June 2012.”