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Kent to create general counsel role if legal services joint venture goes ahead

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Kent County Council intends to create a general counsel role should its proposed joint venture for legal services go ahead.

The plan is contained in papers being considered by the full council today (12 February) on the authority’s Budget 2015/16 and Medium Term Financial Plan 2015-18.

The general counsel role would replace the post of Director of Governance & Law and encompass: Monitoring Officer; SIRO (Senior Information Risk Owner); County Returning Officer; Deputy lord Lieutenant; Democratic services; Information Resilience and Transparency; Legal Commissioning Intelligent Client ; and Legal Services (Commissioned service).

The establishment of the role is part of wider plans for a new senior management structure for Kent’s Strategic and Corporate Services Directorate.

Expected to be in place with effect from 1 April 2015, this revised structure has been designed to ensure the Head of Paid Service at Kent – the Corporate Director Strategic and Corporate Services – is supported effectively.

A consultation pack on changes to the directorate said: “Facing the Challenge [a paper describing the authority’s new operational framework] necessitates a rigorous and corporate approach to governance and compliance. The impact of this will be felt and enacted across all parts of the council and throughout the Directorate, but will have a particularly significant impact in two areas of the new structure.

“The first is in Commissioning support and Strategic Policy and the second is in areas which come under the remit of Director responsible for governance and legal services. The exact nature of this role will be dependent on the outcome of the current procurement process for Legal Services.”

The pack said that if for any reason the joint venture outcome were not achieved, the current Director of Governance and Law role would continue unchanged.

However, it described the outsourcing of the delivery of legal services as “probable”. The local authority is currently at the competitive dialogue stage of the procurement.

The general counsel, the pack said, would be the authority’s senior lawyer and would commission the county’s legal services, providing the intelligent client function.

“It will be important for the Director of Governance and Law/General Counsel to be a substantive member of CMT [Corporate Management Team] and Corporate Board,” the pack added.

In October 2014 the county council issued an OJEU notice inviting expressions of interest in forming a joint venture/alternative business structure with Kent Legal Services.

Led by Geoff Wild, Kent Legal Services has an annual turnover of approximately £9m. Of this between 6-8% is undertaken for external clients. Overall a surplus of around £2.5m pa is generated before deduction of corporate overheads.

The proposed joint venture contract is worth an estimated £100m over the full ten-year term and would cover the delivery of services to the authority and other clients.

The OJEU notice was issued after Kent’s Transformation Advisory Group selected plans for a commercial partner and alternative business structure out of six options for the in-house legal services operation. A market engagement exercise was subsequently held over the course of last summer.