Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council has started a hunt for a single contractor to provide external legal services for an initial three years on an exclusive basis.
The council said it was seeking expressions of interest in a public services contract providing specialist legal advice and assistance “across the full gamut of the Authority’s Legal Services division’s activities together with advice and support required by [the] Legal Services division generally from time to time”.
The scope of the contract – dubbed the "Sandwell Legal Services Strategic Alliance" – covers a range of specialist areas:
- Social Care: including child protection, education admissions, and vulnerable adult protection.
- Litigation: including housing, housing possessions and homelessness, employment and general civil litigation.
- Licensing: including taxi and alcohol licensing.
- Criminal litigation.
- Property: including Right to Buy, general conveyancing, landlord and tenant, developments and highways agreements.
- Commercial: including compulsory purchase orders, highways, planning, procurement, contracts and corporate.
- Other areas: including freedom of information and data protection, judicial review and governance, and human rights.
Sandwell stressed that these areas did not constitute lots within the procurement. “Operators must be able to provide a substantially comprehensive service across the full range of areas,” it said.
The authority acknowledged that the prime contractor might need to sub-contract elements of the services.
Sandwell said its Legal Services division would retain control over the extent of advice and assistance required of the contractor on any specific matter and over the use of counsel.
“Although to the extent possible the Authority is willing to offer the contractor exclusivity it does not guarantee minimum volumes of work and indeed one of the principal objects of the proposed Strategic Alliance is to reduce the volume of service provided by external providers,” it said.
The authority’s legal team advises internal divisions at the council as well as outside organisations such as West Midlands Fire Services, Sandwell Homes, Sandwell Leisure Trust and maintained schools.
It said it wanted to explore exploit opportunities such as collaborative working with other contracting authorities in the West Midlands and commercial trading opportunities.
“Although the Authority is not seeking to purchase on behalf of other contracting authorities in the sense of awarding a multi purchaser framework agreement the scope of the contract sought…..may include advice and assistance to support Legal Services with opportunities to provide legal services to third parties including other contracting authorities and third sector organisations within the West Midlands,” the notice added.
Sandwell said some, but not all, of its spend on bought in legal advice and assistance was recharged through a Legal Services account. The council revealed that its last available data indicated a total external spend of £1.1m a year.
Some of this expenditure relates to external counsel, which will not form part of the exclusive arrangements, and “a high level of spend on exceptional matters which are largely complete” (including a job evaluation exercise conducted for equal pay purposes).
However, the £1.1m total does not include significant external spend – calculated at £1.5m over two years – on specific projects such as Building Schools for the Future and Integrated Waste Services Partnership.
Sandwell said it anticipated future, similar projects would fall within the new, exclusive arrangements.
“For these reasons plus the autonomy of clients, particularly external clients, and the budgetary pressures and consequent changing needs and priorities of local authorities it is difficult to accurately forecast the value of the contract sought in monetary terms,” the council said, adding that it would share available budgetary information with participants at appropriate points of the procurement.
Sandwell said it was “determined that any contract awarded….will deliver greater value for money and an overall reduction in reliance on bought in legal services over the term of the contract”.
The successful provider will be expected to provide associated ‘value-add’ services, including legal training to in-house fee-earners and clients.
The contract is for an initial three years with provision for one negotiated extension of up to two further years.