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Mayor targets £300k savings on legal services via 'risk-based' approach

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A council in the North East will try and save £300,000 on its legal expenditure in 2014/15 by moving from a ‘risk-averse’ culture to a ‘risk-based’ approach, its elected mayor has said.

The change was part of budget proposals and recommendations made by Middlesbrough’s mayor, Ray Mallon to a special meeting of full council on Monday.

Overall, Mallon’s proposals would see cuts of nearly £15m to the budget for the forthcoming financial year. The local authority needs reductions of more than £67m over the next three years.

In relation to legal services, the budget document said: “The council spends £1.6m on legal services, with much of this figure being incurred due to the council being too ‘risk averse’, with officers requesting legal advice from council lawyers, as well as external providers, such as barrister’s chambers and other private legal firms, when it is questionable as to whether such advice is required in the first place.

“By adopting a ‘risk-based’ approach, which ensures that legal advice is only sought when necessary and changing our commissioning practices, will reduce the demand on such services and will create a cultural shift in the organisation.”

Mayor Mallon emphasised that some legal advice was “absolutely necessary”. He added: “[As] a council, we will not depart from obtaining legal advice in justifiable circumstances.”

But he said there must be justifiable reasons for taking such a course, “as legal advice from a barrister of Queen’s Counsel status and the like, which can be expensive indeed”.

The mayor said the council would save £300,000 in legal services expenditure in the first year, but he believed that further savings could be made in future years.

Under the overall plans, 600 jobs will go at Middlesbrough and services will be cut or remodelled in various areas. A new enforcement service will be created through the merger of wardens, parking enforcement officers and neighbourhood enforcement teams.

A number of services will be contracted out, but the mayor insisted that this did not mean privatisation. “Where it is in the council’s best interests for services to be delivered externally, this should occur," he said. "This does not mean, however, that the council will abdicate responsibility for the town or our employees.”