Council’s controversial plan to share lawyers with another authority

Central Beds Council
Central Beds Council

A controversial measure for Central Bedfordshire Council to share a legal department with another authority was approved on Tuesday.

The move – tipped to save a potential £240k per year on legal fees – means CBC can expect to share a legal department with another nearby authortiy.

It will allow a council officer, namely the director of improvement and corporate services, to choose the partner with whom CBC shares legal services, together with the executive of corporate resources.

The move has garnered criticism in some quarters.

Independent Cllr Adam Zerny said: “Given Central Beds has been to court against Luton Borough Council this year, it seems quite some risk to share their legal department with another local authority.

“This decision leaves the responsibility for deciding upon key details of the plan and the council’s new partner, with an officer.

“A strange departure from how councillors usually approve such a decision.”

The motion makes it likely that current Central Beds staff would be transferred to “a separate legal vehicle” subject to the staff consultations.

Cllr Zerny added: “This isn’t just outsourcing. It’s shared ownership, so CBC has to buy its way into the partnership as if it were buying a share in a company.”The council states it will have significant influence and control over the company. It also argues that the process is subject to scrutiny by elected members.

Cllr Richard Wenham, executive for corporate resources, said: “Sharing legal services would bring significant benefits and savings of around £240,000 to the council, and this is money which can be invested in other essential services.

“We have a high-quality legal team at the council and these staff would be protected. However, it would give us access to a larger pool of legal staff. This will give us greater expertise and also reduce costs as staff will be doing work at the appropriate level, for example a paralegal rather than a barrister doing preparatory paperwork, and reduce the need to hire barristers and solicitors when the need arises.”