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Three South West councils to set up shared legal service from April

Three local authorities in the South West have unveiled plans to set up a shared legal services partnership from April.

Mendip District Council will act as host authority, with staff from Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset Council transferring across under TUPE.

There will be no job losses arising out of the establishment of the partnership. The monitoring officer for Taunton Deane and West Somerset will, however, remain employed by West Somerset and based between those two authorities.

Taunton Deane and West Somerset are expected to commission all legal services from Mendip. The latter had already provided legal services support to West Somerset, while the three authorities had worked collaboratively on legal service provision and local government governance for five years.

The move is expected to deliver immediate savings of between 10%-15% to Taunton Deane and 15% to West Somerset. Mendip expects to make 14% savings within the first five years of the project.

The full councils of the three local authorities will decide in February whether to proceed. If agreed, the partnership will begin on 1 April 2015.

Mendip said the benefits of the partnership included:

  • Improved resilience: with the legal team “better able to cope with peaks in workload and staff absences”. A larger legal team would also give each council access to a greater breadth and depth of professional expertise.
  • Reduced external expenditure: “additional resources and a broader skills base will lead to a reduction in the need for external advice and representation.” Where this is required, the combined purchasing power of all three councils “should lead to more competitive procurement rates”.
  • Improved customer service: “access to a more comprehensive legal service should result in a better and more responsive service to officers, councillors and the local community.”
  • Decreased fixed costs: “sharing or joining up legal services across three councils should lead to savings in software (licences), legal library resources and general support.”
  • Re-modelling of legal services: “bringing together the legal services of three councils gives the opportunity to look at systems, processes and workflow arrangements at each, and finding a leaner solution and more agile service offering.”
  • Increased opportunities for income generation: “a larger, more broadly based legal services team should make it possible to increase income generation, for example by offering legal services to other public and voluntary sector bodies.”

A further business case is expected to be developed with the aim of broadening the partnership to include the delivery of other corporate support services such as democratic services, access to information, land charges, procurement, human resources and elections. This is expected to be presented for consideration in July 2015.

The creation of the tri-partnership for legal services follows work done by the Somerset Shared Services Task and Finish Group, which directed that such a project should be undertaken across all Somerset councils.

Following completion of an outline business case Somerset County Council, Sedgemoor District Council and South Somerset District Council decided not to pursue the project at this time.

Donna Nolan, Corporate Manager for Governance, Assets and Public Spaces at Mendip, said: "With the continuing reduction in government funding for local authorities, it's essential that councils explore how to do more for less.

"This new partnership will not only deliver efficiency savings for all three councils, but will lead to an improved legal service for customers."

Cllr John Parham, Portfolio Holder for Governance, Assets and Public Spaces, said: "The new shared legal service partnership is an excellent example of councils working together to save money while improving the service they offer to customers.”

Cllr Kate Kravis, Deputy Leader of West Somerset Council, said: "This shows how the joint working between Taunton Deane and West Somerset can be extended to other partners and services. We are committed to improving services - and making savings - through such initiatives. This is a significant and positive step forward."