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Plans put forward to integrate HB Public Law and Buckinghamshire legal teams

One of the largest local authority shared legal services could be created later this year if the proposed integration of HB Public Law and the legal services department at Buckinghamshire County Council goes ahead.

The Cabinet at Harrow Council backed the move after receving a report yesterday (18 February), while its counterpart at Buckinghamshire is expected to consider the proposals at some stage in the next two months.

The Harrow report says that under the deal, which has been discussed by council officers at the two organisations for the last six months, Buckinghamshire would agree to:

  • Delegate its legal function to Harrow for three years;
  • Retain a Monitoring Officer who would 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 hours from HB Public Law each year for an agreed hourly rate;
  • Pay all set up costs to include e.g. scanning paper files and funding pension fund deficit on transferring employees (calculated in accordance with Harrow’s fund actuarial assumptions);
  • Channel all of its legal work (including that currently outsourced) to HB Public Law;
  • Retain a significant legal presence in County Hall in Aylesbury.

Buckinghamshire’s legal team has 49 staff. If the deal goes ahead, HB Public Law will increase in size to around 160. The service is also recruiting for 13 different roles, including Team Leader and Senior Lawyer positions.

HB Public Law was established in 2012 with the merger of Harrow and Barnet Councils’ legal teams.

In April last year Hugh Peart, Harrow’s Director of Legal & Governance Services, also took on the role of service director for Buckinghamshire’s legal team.

This was followed by the London Borough of Hounslow joining HB Public Law on 1 June and Aylesbury Vale District Council becoming part of the shared service on 1 September.

HB Public Law and Buckinghamshire were the first teams to set up local authority-owned ABSs.

The report prepared for Harrow’s Cabinet meeting suggested that a tie-up with Buckinghamshire would allow HB Public Law to deliver a cost effective and high quality legal service and promote its plans for growth.

Joining with a county council “would further improve resilience, capacity, career opportunities as well as providing the ability to insource more work and provide more specialist teams”, it said.

The report added: “It would also represent a unique arrangement as it would include three London Boroughs, a District Council and a County Council”.

It revealed that discussions have been taking place with other local authorities in recent months, and that these might result in further shared services arrangements or alternatively in federated arrangements where the partner organisation and HB Public Law are able to work together and benefit from greater economies of scale.

“It is also anticipated that there will be opportunities to share work which will enable all of the partner authorities to be able to deal more effectively with peaks and troughs and also to retain even more legal work in-house, which will result in tangible savings to the authorities concerned,” the report noted.

It suggested that a period of consolidation was likely, though, with HB Public Law having increased in size from 25 staff to 150 in three years.

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