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City council legal department required to find £230k savings

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The legal services department at Bristol City Council will have to make £230,000 in savings under budget proposals set out by the authority’s elected mayor today.

The budget proposals identify savings of £130,000 through a comprehensive service review. This will provide “increased efficiency enabling increased income and decreased spend on external legal support”.

The proposals insist that there would be “no likely impact on outcomes through less costly new ways of working”.

A further £100,000 is likely to come through decreasing legal work on non-core elements and ceasing advice on non high risk cases.

This would be achieved through the loss of 4/5 FTE (full time equivalents) or by increasing external income from "aggressive marketing".

The legal services department net budget for 2012/13 (outturn prices) was £6.37m.

The latest savings will mean the team has saved almost £1m over a three-year period. It had already saved £731,000 through a combination of increased income, a reduction in external legal support, growing income to the Register Office, Coroner and Mortuary, and staff savings.

The budget proposals for the city council as a whole in 2013/14 are intended to make £35m in savings, or 9% of its budget.

There will be an estimated reduction in staff numbers of 323 FTE jobs. Of these, 70 are currently vacant. The council said it expected 100 of the remaining 253 job losses to come through compulsory redundancies.

Other proposals include increasing council tax by 2%, expanding community-supported living, ending the funding provided for police community support officers and not proceeding with plans for a new swimming pool in east Bristol.

Mayor George Ferguson, who is an independent, said: “As soon as I came into office I was faced with the huge challenge of how we deal with what has become a growing hole in the local budget.

“This has been handed down to us from government and there is no escape – we have to make cuts. The choices are pretty limited as to where those cuts fall and I want to make sure that I protect the most vulnerable people in this city.”

Ferguson said he was trying to minimise the effect on services by cutting the maximum the council can from back office services, sharing services with other authorities and making sure the authority is as efficient as possible.

Liam Nevin recently became Service Director for Legal Services at Bristol, joining from North Bristol NHS Trust where he was Trust Secretary. His predecessor at the city council, Stephen McNamara, joined Veale Wasbrough Vizards as a consultant.

Bristol’s move to cut £230,000 from its legal services budget comes just weeks after Newcastle City Council proposed removing £379,000 from the base budget for its legal department between 2013 and 2016. The move could lead to a 23% cut in staff.