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Seeing the light

After moving into local government from the private sector, Anthony Butler has completed separate diplomas in local government and procurement law. Here he explains the benefits.

Having trained, qualified and worked as a commercial property lawyer in a large regional firm, I joined local government in 2007 looking to expand my knowledge of local government property law. In my naive innocence I had not understood that it is impossible to have only the one specialism in local government.

Within a year of joining the council I was offered the opportunity to undertake the Law Society Diploma in Local Government. The course was originally designed only for solicitors in local government, however solicitors in private practice specialising in local government are now also entitled to enrol.

I undertook the course to raise my awareness of the issues exclusive to local government and gain a better understanding of areas of local government on which I was finding myself being asked for advice.

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The course requires candidates to complete three 4,000-word assignments each on a practical problem question and two 2¼ hour exams.

The course is self study, although there is a useful seminar which is optional. I completed the course in my own time and probably spent an average of around five hours a week over the course of an academic year; although those hours tended to be crammed into a handful of weekends as the deadline for the projects loomed and the exams were upon me.

Deeper understanding

I cannot say that having completed the course I became expert in local government, but I found the course vital to raising my awareness of the number of different areas of law that impact upon local government and how they apply.

Undertaking the course is equivalent to being handed a candle having found yourself in a pitch black cave; the candle helps you realise you are actually in a massive cavern, but leaves you in no doubt as to the challenges.

I have been fortunate that since completing the course I have been appointed monitoring officer for the council. I found the grounding and confidence the LG Dip gave me invaluable to fulfilling this role.

Perhaps the most surprising thing for me about completing the LG Dip was how much I had enjoyed studying. The following year I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to be on the first intake for the Post Graduate Diploma in Public Procurement at Nottingham University.

Bang for your buck

The implementation of the remedies directive into UK law meant it was imperative that the council’s legal department could provide practical procurement advice to avoid facing substantial external legal bills and possibly substantial claims. Therefore the modest outlay involved in me undertaking this course provided value for money to the council.

The PG Dip is designed to give participants a thorough understanding of international and UK procurement law and is open to lawyers and non-lawyers. The full diploma requires candidates to undertake eight modules with learning primarily done through self study. Extensive and excellent course materials are provided and there are also weekend schools at Nottingham University.

As an alternative to the diploma you can obtain a Certificate in Public Procurement by completing only four modules. You can convert the diploma to an LLM by completing a 45-page dissertation.

The diploma required around seven hours a week to be spent studying; although as with the LG Dip these hours were often crammed into weekends, particularly when an examination was approaching.

The practical and the academic

Assessment was by two take home examinations for each module; the examinations would be sent out at 5pm on the Friday and had to be handed in by 12 pm on the Monday which although hard work and challenging at least meant it was impossible to spend weeks cogitating. The style of question was mixed between practical and academic.

Completing the course has given me an excellent understanding of procurement law and its principles, enabling me to give practical and pragmatic advice when ideas and suggestions are at a nascent stage. I am also able to offer advice and support to the council’s procurement team which had not previously been available from the legal department.

I thoroughly enjoyed completing both courses and would not hesitate to recommend undertaking them to anyone provided they are able to give the time commitment required. Both courses are a productive way by which to meet your CPD requirements and, particularly in the case of the public procurement diploma, an excellent way of meeting new people and exchanging ideas.

Anthony Butler is Monitoring Officer and Senior Solicitor (Property and Environment) at Torbay Council.

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