The first shared legal service with more than 100 lawyers is understood to be a real possibility after Salford City Council and Manchester City Council confirmed they are reviewing their legal services departments.
A spokeswoman for Salford said: “Salford City Council and Manchester City Council currently have an interim arrangement in place in relation to legal services while a review of the service is carried out. On completion of this review, both authorities will look at what the best long-term option is for legal services.”
Local Government Lawyer understands that a shared legal services arrangement is one of the options being considered. Manchester currently employs more than 80 solicitors and legal executives, while Salford has 26.
The exact nature of the interim arrangement and when it was put in place is unclear. The section on Salford’s website relating to its law and administration division names Anthony Rich as City Solicitor, but he moved to become general counsel of the new Legal Ombudsman in the summer of 2010.
The Manchester and Salford review is the highest profile exploration of a shared service arrangement so far. Other tie-ups mooted or considered in the last year – albeit with various different structures – include:
- Southampton City Council and Fareham Borough Council
- Cannock Chase District Council and Stafford Borough Council
- The London boroughs of Haringey and Waltham Forest
- The London boroughs of Richmond and Merton
- Norfolk Public Law, which involves Norfolk County Council, Norwich City Council and Great Yarmouth Borough Council
- A group of authorities in South West Wales including Carmarthenshire County Council and Bridgend County Borough Council
- Four district councils in Leicestershire and Warwickshire.
News of the legal services review comes as Manchester outlined council-wide voluntary severance proposals, revealing that it needs to see its workforce reduce “quickly” by about 2,000 staff (or about 17% of its workforce). The likely impact on the legal team is unknown at this stage.
The local authority said it had been hit “particularly badly” by the government cuts, claiming to be among the five worst-hit councils in the country. Savings of £110m are required over the next five years, it said.
“The headline figure for the cuts has been given as 8.9%, but in reality the scale of the cuts is 25% over the next two years,” the council said, calling into question Department for Communities and Local Government figures produced at the time the local government finance settlement was announced.
Manchester said it still aimed to meet its pledge to avoid compulsory redundancies. The cost of its upfront severance package is thought likely to be in the region of £60m, but is expected to produce annual savings of £70m.
Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, said: "The unfairness of the government's financial grant settlement for Manchester, one of the five worst in the country, has been widely reported. We now have to find £110m in savings next year – £60m more than expected – because of front-loading and the re-distribution of money from Manchester to more affluent areas.
“The accelerated cuts mean we can no longer achieve the staffing reductions we have been forced into through natural turnover which is why we are proposing a time-limited offer of voluntary severance and voluntary early retirement. At the same time we will continue to invest through our m people employee programme to improve the skills and the productivity of the majority of our staff who will stay with us."