The Cabinet at Surrey County Council has backed plans to share a range of services – including legal – with East Sussex County Council in a deal that the authorities predict could deliver savings of up to £8m annually within four years.
The two councils said the combined 130-strong legal team would be based at the two existing sites at Lewes and Kingston on Thames.
In addition to legal services, the shared service proposals cover teams in IT, human resources, property, procurement, finance and other services.
With a working title of South East Business Services (SEBS), the shared service will provide provide services in partnership with other public sector organisations, and deliver public service innovation, Surrey said.
A joint committee, comprising up to three Cabinet members from Surrey and up to three members from East Sussex, will discharge the councils’ functions in relation to SEBS.
The intention is for the service to attract further public sector partners in time, as members of the joint committee.
East Sussex’s Cabinet is to consider the plans next month, with the partnership arrangement due to come into effect on 15 April.
Philip Baker, Assistant Chief Executive at East Sussex County Council, said: “This is a great opportunity which will enable us to meet the challenges ahead. The new single [legal] service will allow us to tap into the wider pool of staff members with specialist expertise that comes from an expanded team.
“This is about more than two teams joining together; it is about building a stronger service that enables both authorities to help reduce cost across the public sector, helping councils to protect frontline services.”
Ann Charlton, Director of Legal and Democratic Services at Surrey County Council, added: “This is a great opportunity to build a stronger legal team to support the work of our two county councils and the residents and businesses they serve.
“As well as our primary work with the two authorities, the move will put us in an even better position to work with a wider range of public service partners.”
The two local authorities have collaborated successfully prior to the establishment of SEBS, through a shared procurement team and transactional service provision in operation since April 2013.
The report prepared for Surrey’s Cabinet meeting, which can be viewed here, said: “Surrey County Council and East Sussex County Council propose to build upon the success to date and deliver significant and transformative change by working in partnership to provide a comprehensive set of business services to both authorities, operating as one function under the management of a joint committee.
“The proposed partnership will deliver resilient and sustainable services whilst providing savings to our authorities. The bringing together of services from Surrey County Council and East Sussex County Council will create sufficient scale to allow the recruitment and retention of the best staff, drive shared efficiencies and invest in new technology that might otherwise be prohibitively expensive for each organisation alone.”
Next month will see the legal teams at Eastbourne Borough Council and Lewes District Council combine. Celia Cullen, a former head of local government at Pinsent Masons, joined ahead of the tie-up.