Hounslow Council is to join the HB Public Law shared legal services partnership later this year.
The new arrangements will be put in place from 1 June 2015, with a central legal team based in Harrow.
Harrow Council is also significantly expanding the HB Public Law team, with plans to hire 10 lawyers and legal assistants (click here for more information on these roles).
News of the partnership's growth emerged with the appointment of Hugh Peart, Director of Governance and Legal Services at Harrow, to an additional role as Head of Legal at Buckinghamshire County Council.
Peart is to divide his time between the two authorities and explore ways in which their legal functions can work more closely together.
HB Public Law was set up by Harrow and Barnet councils and formally launched in May 2013.
A report on its proposed expansion prepared for Harrow's Cabinet last month said no formal agreement had yet been reached but Hounslow's agreement to delegate its legal function to Harrow was based on Hounslow agreeing to:
- Delegate its legal function for five years;
- Retain a monitoring officer who will also discharge the 'client' function in relation to the arrangement;
- Transfer its legal staff to Harrow under the TUPE regulations;
- Commission an agreed number of legal hours from HB Public Law each year for an agreed hourly rate;
- Pay set up costs to include eg scanning paper files and funding the pension fund deficit on transferring employees;
- Provide hot desk facilities at its civic centre;
- Channel all its work (including that currently outsourced) through HB Public Law.
The agreement between the two authorities would also include provisions reflecting the arrangemetns which underpin Harrow's relationship with Barnet.
In order to ensure service continuity, Hounslow has expressed the wish that for at least the first nine months its work will be done, so far as is possible, by its transferring staff. "Thereafter the work will be allocated, in consultation with Hounslow clients, in accordance with how the new, larger practice is organised," the report said.
When implemented, the expansion will see HB Public Law increase in size by almost 50%.
In a statement also issued last month the councils said the addition of Hounslow to HB Public Law would “bring additional opportunities for both sets of staff helping to attract and retain the best team possible”.
The statement added: “By working together in this way councils can ensure crucial legal services are protected in the face of reducing budgets, without reducing vital services elsewhere. Hounslow will be able to benefit from a larger legal team with an increased range of specialisms to manage all cases. It will also allow for back office savings and a more effective deployment of resources.”
Cllr Kamaljit Kaur, cabinet member for corporate performance and customer care at Hounslow, said: “These new arrangements will enable us to improve the efficiency and resilience of our legal services thanks to greater flexibility and shared professional knowledge among colleagues.”
Cllr Graham Henson, Harrow’s portfolio holder for performance, corporate resources and policy development, said: “We are delighted Hounslow has decided to join the successful HB Public Law project, and we look forward to working with them. By working together in this way we can provide expert legal advice to more than one authority and give our clients access to a wider range of services at a reduced cost. It also means we can draw on a wider range of experience and skills when necessary.
“In an environment where every local authority is under pressure from government cutbacks, we all need to look creatively not just at saving – but also at potential sources of revenue. Every penny that comes into Harrow Council is a penny we will not have to cut from services to our residents.”
In November last year Buckinghamshire and HB Public Law were the first bodies to set up local authority-owned alternative business structures.