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Local authority pulls out of talks to join shared legal service

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Reading Council has decided against joining the shared legal service between Wokingham Borough Council and the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, it has emerged.

Wokingham and RBWM merged their legal teams on 1 June into a service known as Shared Legal Solutions (SLS). Hosted and owned by Wokingham, it has 20 lawyers and two trainees.

Reading had been involved in the original discussions to develop SLS. However, its Cabinet rejected joining the scheme at a meeting in July after receiving a report from chief executive Michael Coughlin recommending withdrawal.

The report gave a number of reasons for this recommendation. These were:

  • A number of the possible savings identified by the project were not seen as relevant to Reading
  • The shared services scheme would have offered fewer hours of legal advice per annum (15,000 compared to the legal team’s current 19,440) at a higher hourly rate (£65 compared to £51). The purchase of the additional 4,440 hours would cost Reading an additional £288,600, the report claimed
  • The legal service was “of critical importance to the council” and was highly thought of. There was a risk of disruption if staff were relocated and their employment transferred to Wokingham “which could impact on service delivery at a critical time of massive change for the council”
  • The loss of instant face-to-face access to the Legal Section “was an issue strongly expressed by Reading client services” and the loss to call on certain senior staff at all times “was considered a serious detriment”.

Susanne Nelson-Wehrmeyer, business manager of SLG, said: “While it is disappointing that Reading has decided not to join Shared Legal Solutions, it doesn’t prevent the continuation of what has so far proved to be a successful arrangement for Wokingham and Windsor and Maidenhead Boroughs. We look forward to its continued success, providing a robust and efficient legal service for both councils.”

Philip Hoult

See also: Two is company