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County council and fire authority join forces to set up ABS

The legal teams at Buckinghamshire County Council and the Bucks and Milton Keynes Fire Authority have unveiled plans to set up an alternative business structure.

An application has been submitted to the Solicitors Regulation Authority for a licence for the ABS, which will be called Buckinghamshire Law +.

The move comes just weeks after HB Public Law – the shared legal service between Harrow and Barnet – revealed that it had applied for a licence from the SRA to establish an ABS. It said the step was a response to the extensive outsourcing being undertaken by local authorities.

Anne Davies, Head of Legal and Democratic Services at Buckinghamshire County Council, told Local Government Lawyer that the possibility of registering an ABS was first considered when new legislation encouraged schools to convert to academies and parents to set up free schools.

Buckinghamshire was one of the first local authorities to apply to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority for a waiver to allow it to act for academy schools.

Davies said: “We are aware of authorities that do not wish to supply legal services to their academy schools and we wanted to be able to market to this sector without being in breach of the Code of Conduct and without having to apply for a waiver on a regular basis.

“Since that time the local government landscape has changed considerably – in Buckinghamshire we have formed a charitable trust to deal with school improvement, a wholly owned company to offer care services, and have transferred some of our properties to provide outdoor learning opportunities: we are considering options for our museum, our highways services are provided by Ringway Jacobs and many of our care homes are now provided by housing associations or charitable trusts.”

Davies added that a number of services were carried out for the county council by the charitable sector – sometimes by large charities such as Barnardos, sometimes smaller locally-based organisations.

“Our feeling, which was supported by our elected members, was that there was considerable opportunity to offer an expert ‘public sector’ service to a wider variety of quasi public bodies both within the county area and outside it, and we felt that the registration of an ABS gives us an opportunity to do this,” she said.

Davies said Buckinghamshire Law + could be one of the first, if not the first, local authority-led ABSs to be licensed by the SRA.

She added that the fire authority was “an obvious partner as we do work very closely together and we are looking for an opportunity to expand into the ‘blue light’ sector.

A key aim, Davies said, was to create and develop a commercial legal firm, “operating efficiently to deliver high quality legal services for a range of public and voluntary sector clients”.