Southwark and Lambeth Councils are to establish two joint legal teams to handle litigation and regulatory and prosecutions work and pilot a similar operation for property.
If the initiatives prove successful, the two councils will look to extend the joint legal service to other authorities.
The joint litigation team will be led by Southwark’s head of litigation, while the joint regulatory and prosecutions team will be led by a senior regulatory lawyer from Lambeth. The pilot property team will be based in Southwark.
In addition, the two councils have agreed to make a pilot business manager they shared into a permanent arrangement.
Southwark and Lambeth are expected to explore and develop further shared services “as opportunities present themselves”. This might include a shared Contracts and Planning team, located in either of the two authorities.
The two councils considered other business model options in addition to the integrated team approach. These were developing a shared legal team which would have included shared management structures, and Southwark undertaking legal work on Lambeth’s behalf under a service level agreement.
“Senior managers in Southwark and Lambeth both fully support the option of developing shared legal teams located in either Southwark or Lambeth,” a report prepared for Southwark’s Cabinet said. “However current employment legislation and respective HR policies in both authorities make it extremely difficult to create shared legal teams without a major and costly joint restructure, which is not supported by the prospect of savings across the whole service and which might delay the savings already identified by both authorities for 2012/13.
“It is therefore more appropriate to continue with current practice, at least in the short term, which is to seek to second staff from one authority to the other, under a secondment agreement and share the cost of the post between both authorities.”
The chosen approach was the “quickest and simplest” option in terms of managing the identified risks and moving swiftly within HR constraints, the report added.
The creation of integrated teams comes two months after Southwark and Lambeth appointed 31 sets of chambers to a £10.4m, four-year framework agreement for barristers’ services. The agreement is expected to save the two authorities £100,000 a year each.
Southwark currently spends around £12m a year on legal services, of which £5m is spent on the procurement of “bought-in” legal services. Lambeth’s outlay is approximately £8m, nearly half of which is spend on external services and disbursements.
Southwark is looking to save £600,000 between 2012 and 2014 through a reorganisation of its legal department.
Lambeth meanwhile is seeking to meet a £100,000 savings target for 2012/13 through its own restructuring. As part of this, the authority plans to bring more work back in-house.
Southwark said that its in-house legal team, which is larger than Lambeth’s, would be able to undertake work on its neighbour’s behalf. This is expected to generate “a small amount” of income to contribute towards its targets.
Southwark’s Leader Peter John said in the report: "Our legal departments have already developed and implemented a joint framework agreement for the purchasing of barristers services which will provide significant savings.
"However, following significant work our legal teams have agreed that further work can be done to join up the Litigation, Regulatory and Property teams in Southwark and Lambeth, in order to take advantage of the real expertise which exists in those areas across both councils.”
Cllr John said he hoped that this could be extended to other boroughs in due course, “bringing with it even greater savings and efficiencies for the residents of our boroughs”.
Lambeth's Cabinet Member for Finance, Cllr Paul McGlone, said: "Like all councils, we are cutting back office costs to deliver savings for taxpayers across every council department.
"Lambeth and Southwark councils are working together to set up share services such as legal where this delivers efficiencies and saves money. This means we can help protect front line services across south London."