Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea press ahead with legal integration

The London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham and the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea are to press ahead with greater integration of their legal teams in the short term rather than seek a three-way link-up with Westminster City Council, it has been confirmed.

The focus on a bi-borough approach until 2013 is revealed in a progress report submitted this month to the Cabinets at the three authorities. Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea already share a joint Director of Legal Services.

However, the three councils are to explore hard and soft partnership models with private practice on a tri-borough basis over this period.

The report goes on to say that in the medium term – from 2013 onwards – consideration would need to be given to creating shared adults and children’s legal teams to support the new combined services in 2012/13. It notes that Westminster City Council is tied into a contract until 2013.

No savings are expected to be made in legal as a result of tri-borough working in either 2012/13 or 2013/14, but it is predicted that £300,000 could be achieved in 2014/15.

The overall position in relation to legal is to be reviewed again in 2013, the report says.

Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea have each delivered savings of £125,000 by 2011/12 through bi-borough working.

Meanwhile in February this year Westminster announced plans to make £4m in savings from back office functions of its legal, communications, policy and performance departments.

The latest progress report covers the steps the councils are taking to secure their target of £35m savings by 2014/15.

The Cabinets are expected to decide in June whether to combine services in the following areas:

  • fostering and adoption services and youth offending services. This would see the creation of a single Local Safeguarding Children Board
  • library services
  • environment management teams at Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea.

The June meetings will also hear detailed proposals about combining adult services, education services and corporate services.

Leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Cllr Sir Merrick Cockell said: "Everyone knows the financial straits councils find themselves in. To protect our services we have taken a difficult and challenging road but as this report shows we are making progress and we are making it happen."

Hammersmith and Fulham Council leader Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh said: "This is a common sense way of dealing with the big financial pressures facing councils up and down the country. Combining services is not only more cost effective but would also allow us to improve services in many areas such as allowing Hammersmith residents to access libraries in Westminster and vice versa."

Philip Hoult

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