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Good neighbours

The shared legal service between Manchester and Salford city councils is one of the largest in the country. Philip Hoult finds out from senior management about its launch in April 2012 and its subsequent progress

Talk us through the history of the shared service. How did it come about? What was the rationale?  

Manchester City Hall 2jpg port 146x219Liz Treacy: It started out originally because of ongoing work between the authorities around collaboration. Salford and Manchester share a border and are both majority-Labour councils. They have got a lot of commonality around regeneration, economic growth and so on. There was a concerted push around shared services, savings and the benefits of working more closely together.

Ten projects were identified in spring 2010 and legal services was one of them. We then started work with Salford legal, but there was a hiatus following the sad death of the Salford Head of Legal Services in the summer. We began to get involved in assisting with management and supervision in about October 2010 and the project moved on from there.

Salford had also been without a City Solicitor for a couple of years, but the main reason for the move was the desire for closer collaboration.

Andy Roberts: I think it is fair to say that Salford acknowledged that there was a lack of strategic management. That was certainly one of the drivers for entering into the agreement.

Liz Treacy: We then had the discussions. The Chief Executives and the Leaders had to be behind it from the start, so there was the political drive and the strategic drive to move things along. Jacqui [Dennis] went to Salford a couple of days a week to assist with management of the service and to review the options going forward.  

In early 2011 we produced a report containing a range of approaches, including the very gentle stuff we had discussed before such as setting up a joint framework agreement for external lawyers or sharing legal opinions. We also looked at having specific joint teams where it was easy to see the work was coterminous, for example in childcare where the lawyers were using the same court. The final option was to say ‘let’s do it wholeheartedly, let’s go for a fully shared service’.

At the time we were into the first round of local government settlement cuts. It was in May 2011 that decisions were taken and approval was given for the full shared service. We were very much of the view that it would take a year to put together.

The shared legal service was formally launched in April 2012, although in the intervening period Manchester managed the service. There was a lot to do – we worked closely with staff, set up a project board, and organised work streams. We provided the legal support and supervision. A lot of joint events were held and there were meetings with clients.

The aim was for 1 April simply to be a date when the TUPE transfer would happen. It wasn’t intended to be a ‘big bang’ – staff had started moving over gradually from the autumn before. Thankfully, everything worked.

Jacqui Dennis: After determining that a fully shared legal service was how we would operate in the future, we worked hard at developing what we called the ‘one-team approach’.

How did you approach that? There is a risk that one team can feel that it is being taken over by another.

Liz Treacy: We were extremely conscious of that because Manchester was and is a very large legal service. We do a lot of work in-house, and try and externalise as little as possible. Before the transfer there were 120 Manchester staff and in the Salford team there were 45.  

As there was a reasonable amount of change going on, we tried to ensure that (a) we were all conscious of it, and (b) that we involved everyone. So we had six work streams, three of which were led by Salford and its staff and three of which were led by Manchester. The project board was joint and included a trade union representative. The work streams worked with staff.

There wasn’t a ‘Manchester is bigger than Salford’ approach; it didn’t work like that. It was very much about involving people on an equal level, bringing people together in larger events and mixing them up a bit. Also, it wasn’t a case of us as senior managers saying how it was going to happen, it was a case of trying to involve staff across the board to say they had an input.

June Ackers: What we did in Children’s Services, because the work was very similar, was to get the head of the team in Salford and the operational head of the team in Manchester to work together on the new model, the new structure for delivery of the service.  

They genuinely worked collaboratively. The reality is – certainly on the Children’s Services side of it but across the piece – the Salford legal staff knew their clients a lot better than we did. So they were able to put forward what their clients would want. This was very much at the fore of the work I did on the merger of the Children’s Services side because those working relationships are incredibly important.

Salford Town Hall 146x219Andy Roberts: Jacqui and I also did a round robin of all the senior management teams at Salford, to try and elicit exactly what it is that they wanted from the service and make sure that the specification properly reflected that as well.

Liz Treacy: There was also a communications group that involved lawyers from both Manchester and Salford as well as a comms person who led it. This didn’t get off the ground as well as it ought to have done at the beginning, but we picked that up reasonably quickly. There were people on the ground coming and saying we need to know what’s going on.  

So we put the project minutes on the councils’ intranet, we emailed information around, and we put out a number of joint messages. One of the things that we noticed was that it wasn’t just about staff from Salford feeling they had been taken over by Manchester. We needed to make sure that the Manchester staff (a) didn’t feel that we were doing nothing but working on the collaboration to the detriment of everything else, and (b) realised they had as a much of a role to play in how it moved forward. If anything, at the beginning we were almost too focused on ensuring that the Salford staff felt fully included.

Andy Roberts: We did a ‘lessons learned’ review at the end of the project and the one big positive was this movement towards a gradual one-team approach. There was no clash of cultures.

Jacqui Dennis: It was underpinned by support from Salford’s HR division, who led on those issues. We also had change and risk management workshops for staff.

Did you find that there were some areas where working practices were very similar and others where there was quite a gap?

Liz Treacy: There are cultural differences in the way that councils operate and that’s been quite interesting on both sides. The main difference in terms of the work was that in Salford a lot of the commercial legal work was outsourced. In Manchester there is a framework but we keep as much work as we can in-house.  

Jacqui Dennis: One of the things that staff appreciated fairly quickly was that having additional colleagues provided service resilience and other benefits. We were able to align people into groups and have specific projects that they would work on together.

Liz Treacy: From around May 2011 the legal services management team – which has six people – would try and have a presence at Salford. Somebody would be there every day for an afternoon, or a morning or a day. It didn’t always work out but we had a rota. Sometimes it was to sit with staff and do work connected with the merger, or to meet with clients, and at other times it was just a case of being there and doing our usual work.

Andy Roberts: That visibility is quite important. We’ve retained some hot desking areas within the Civic Centre at Salford as well as two permanent staff and there is also a presence at one of our satellite offices at Turnpike House. That visibility reinforces the fact that this is very much a shared service and clients can see that people are working together.

You also get the benefits of cross fertilisation of knowledge. There were acknowledged gaps in service provision in Salford pre-transfer. Those have largely been plugged now and it is a much more resilient service.

Jacqui Dennis: Something we put in place when assisting at Salford was a quarterly staff briefing, which we traditionally had here in Manchester. This is where we discuss the direction of the council, ideas for changes and how we are going to best equip ourselves going forward. June [Ackers] also did a lot of work around client surveys, so we had a base line client survey as well.

June Ackers: We did put things in place that weren’t used as much as we would have liked. We were absolutely as transparent and open as we could be. There was a set of frequently asked questions and large amounts of information put on the Councils’ intranets. There was an inbox for staff to communicate questions or concerns but it was rarely used. At the beginning the Salford staff were fundamentally interested in such issues as: Am I going to have a job? Where am I going to be working? Those were the critical things.

Liz Treacy: In terms of the staff, there are always going to be one or two people who are not going to be happy. But, overall, people were positive.
June Ackers: In many cases there were already pre-existing professional relationships between individuals and teams and that made things easier.

How much was the shared service driven by the need to make savings?

Liz Treacy: It was certainly a very relevant consideration. However, our consistent view was that while we recognised that we have to make savings – and it does make savings – it was also about resilience, staff development, a better service, those kinds of things. We aren’t going to save millions of pounds by doing this.

Andy Roberts: We were probably externalising too much work pre-transfer at Salford, particularly on the commercial side with the more complex land and property deals. With the shared service we have now got in-house capability and so we are not externalising anywhere near the amount of work we were.

Liz Treacy: For staff, they do see it much more as a career opportunity. It is a bigger organisation. We have now got something like 168 staff. So it provides more career opportunities, more structured training and development and so on.

Andy Roberts: It is also about eliminating duplication to some extent. For example, Jacqui [Dennis] has been dealing with issues in relation to the council tax benefit system. That’s something that affects both authorities. It is the same with issues that have come out of the Localism Act.

June Ackers: If there are looser arrangements between authorities, you can try and foster the sharing of knowledge and sharing of work but it is really difficult. It can be a struggle until you are actually a shared service.

I am leading on the Family Justice Review for the Greater Manchester authorities. We identified that if we were going to have a real stab at making the necessary changes within Children’s Services and with partners to deliver the recommendations, we wanted to have a senior solicitor seconded to concentrate on the review.

So Manchester and Salford have jointly funded that post for six months. We have an action plan in place and the changes that we will make will, if they are accepted by the clients, be for both authorities. The ultimate aim is to roll them out as much as we can to the other eight authorities in Greater Manchester. But it is a really good example of where, had we not had the shared service, we probably would not have received the funding. We wouldn’t have been able to do it or we would have done it in a more limited way.

Jacqui Dennis: The shared service has also been representing both councils on the judicial review of the GCSE results. By having one person reading a skeleton argument and giving advice to both authorities, you are cutting out a massive amount of duplication.

What happens if, say, one authority wants to make deeper cuts than the other?

Liz Treacy: Manchester and Salford have entered into a commissioning agreement. So the way it is legally structured is that Salford is paying an amount for the legal service – that is a contractual agreement and that is what will be paid. This is still the first year and we have had some recent discussions about funding, utilisation and so on.

At the end of this year we will look and see how the budgets have worked out and if there is any underspend, then we will move forward on that basis. We will see if there is anything to be shared and how many savings each authority has made.  

But we recognise the environment that we work in. We have all got to look to be efficient and make savings wherever we can and then we need to have that discussion about those savings. It needs to be a joint discussion that includes the strategic directors. To be fair there is recognition that the majority of the work that we do, is work that has to be done. So if we don’t do it, it goes out externally and therefore costs more money.

Are all staff physically co-located in Manchester? Or did some stay in Salford?

Jacqui Dennis: The Neighbourhood Services group operates over three sites and there are good reasons for that. We wanted to keep a presence at the Salford Civic Centre, so some staff stayed on that site. But we also have a larger office there which has hot desking capabilities and we have additional staff from the groups over there every day. Part of the housing neighbour nuisance team is based in Turnpike House and that was because of the client’s preference to have proximity to the lawyers handling emergency work.

June Ackers: The way we manage the work is different across the groups, depending on client need and delivery of the service. So, for example, in my area [Children’s Services] I have one team that deals purely with Manchester work and one team that does predominantly Salford work and some Manchester work. In other areas, solicitors will have a mix of matters for both councils.

Jacqui Dennis: It’s been a case of listening to our clients about what their needs are and how we can deliver that as a group, rather than deciding someone is, say, the nominated Salford person, and they will only look at its work.  

How has the shared service gone down with members? One of the reasons often given for not implementing a shared service is that the members and senior officers won’t like it, that they like to have their lawyers down the corridor.

Liz Treacy: It’s not been an issue at all. One of the things that changed post transfer was that Salford had a referendum and now has an elected Mayor, so obviously that side of things is different. But we are there almost every day because of the various things that are going on. There are still relationships to build in Salford because we don’t have a huge physical presence there, but I think that’s building and continuing to build.

Andy Roberts: I think members can see the benefits. There has been a lot of work on Salford’s constitution, for example. I have been in the process of redrafting our contracts standing orders but we have some expertise here at Manchester. This has been long outstanding and the shared service has given us that impetus to make sure that we tackle this big piece of work. Because of the recent changes and the move to the City Mayor, it needed to be done PDQ and we are working very much together on that.

Coincidentally I’ve just come from the senior management meeting this morning and we did a sounding board as to what they thought of the service. Everybody was happy with the service that was being received.

Have staff seen any advantages yet?

Jacqui Dennis: We have been able to provide – through a joint workforce group – more of a focus on training and development. Even though the service is only a few months old, some staff have been successfully promoted.

Liz Treacy: If you are a smaller organisation, issues such as workforce development can be difficult. During the 12-month period before the final transfer, the Salford staff joined that group. What we wanted was for people to see the benefits and the advantages immediately. We did have some quick wins that we identified early on.

A number of larger legal teams have sought to increase the amount of trading they do. Is that something you are looking at?

Liz Treacy: We do work for registered social landlords, schools and other bodies such as the Greater Manchester Police Authority.

June Ackers: We also have in place an advocacy service for children’s work which has been very successful in terms of making savings and improving client satisfaction. So we would like to grow that.

Liz Treacy: We have always been very active in handling work for other bodies. We have always had income targets and seen it as part of what we do in supporting our authorities’ objectives and priorities. However, we have taken the view this year that, although we are certainly looking at specific areas, we need to ensure the service beds in.
 
Is a Greater Manchester regional hub for legal services in the offing?

Liz Treacy: No. That is something that has been talked about in the past but certainly for the first six to 12 months we need to focus on making sure we get this service right.

Andy Roberts: I think there has been a recognition that there has been a lot of talk in the past about AGMA [Association of Greater Manchester Authorities] collaborations. For one reason or another, they have been difficult to get off the ground, in trying to satisfy everybody’s disparate needs.

One of the reasons we got this one across the line and it has worked is because we have a lot in common. We have a pretty shared culture and the same drivers as well.

That’s why it is successful and probably why some of the bigger AGMA collaborations maybe haven’t materialised.

Liz Treacy: We took complete ownership of the project in Manchester and Salford legal services. To some extent, had it failed, there would have been nowhere to hide.

Jacqui Dennis: We managed to deliver this project on time and within our existing budgets. This was done alongside business as usual for both authorities. We are quite proud of that.

Where does the service fit in with other consortia?

Liz Treacy: There is a Greater Manchester Chief Legal Officers’ Group, which we are very much a part of. It is a very useful group which meets monthly. Links between teams in practice areas such as childcare, adult social care, and employment are also pretty active.

The reason we didn’t join the North West Legal Consortium framework was that the timing wasn’t right. We had set up our own three-year framework for legal services the year before and we felt we could not go through that again.

If I were a head of legal from another similar sized authority looking to embark on this kind of project, how would you  advise me?

Liz Treacy: Make sure you have the buy-in from the leadership in your council. I think the critical thing for us was engaging with the staff. You have to know what you are doing and why you are doing it, so you have to have the vision. And you need proper leadership. Then you have to have transparency and engagement with staff because otherwise it just doesn’t work.

Jacqui Dennis: You need to be clear about what your baseline is as well, in terms of where you both are as a legal service at that time.

Andy Roberts: You also have to know what the objectives are and make sure that there is a strategic fit between the collaborating authorities.

June Ackers: And don’t get blown off course.

How will you measure the service’s success?

Andy Roberts: The clients certainly weren’t in favour of having mechanistic performance indicators that weren’t necessarily that meaningful. However, we do have a client survey, Lexcel accreditation, risk registers, and regular client meetings where people have an opportunity to express concerns. Liz and I meet on a regular basis. There are the outputs of the case management system as well, which does need to be refined but we are addressing that.

So, overall, it is a good package of performance management tools. It is important not to turn it into an industry.

Liz Treacy: You could spend so much time measuring outputs and not doing the legal work. It is the quality of the legal work that will make a difference at the end of the day.

Participants

  • Liz Treacy: Head of Legal Services for Manchester and Salford.
  • June Ackers: Head of the Children’s Services Group, one of the three groups in the shared service, and quality manager, leading on Lexcel.
  • Andy Roberts: Client Services Manager at Salford, led on the specifications workstream.
  • Jacqui Dennis: Head of Neighbourhood Services, another of the service’s groups. Spent time in Salford assisting with management of the service ahead of the transfer, conducted the initial review and led on HR issues.