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Shared legal service terminated as requirements of partner councils change

The shared legal service between Spelthorne Borough Council and Reigate & Banstead Borough Council came to an end last month after three years, it has emerged.

Spelthorne told Local Government Lawyer that an increase in legal work for recent property acquisitions meant it made sense for it to have its own in-house legal team.

Reigate & Banstead meanwhile said the cessation of the partnership would allow it to develop an alternative business structure and commercialise the service.

A spokeswoman for Spelthorne said: “The council has recently been heavily involved in property acquisitions to provide sustainable income streams to support the council’s revenue budget. In view of our increased work in this area we have concluded that we would now be better served by returning to having our own in-house legal team, rather than continuing with the legal partnership with Reigate & Banstead Borough Council.

“We will be working to ensure that this transition happens as smoothly as possible.”

John Jory, Chief Executive of Reigate & Banstead, said: “After nearly three beneficial years, our shared legal service with Spelthorne Borough Council came to an end on 31 March. With our plans to develop a commercial legal company with private sector partners gaining pace and Spelthorne focusing on developing its in-house legal service, both organisations agree it is sensible to end the arrangement.”

A meeting of Reigate & Banstead’s Executive last month (23 March) authorised the council’s acting head of legal to develop a commercial vehicle to deliver legal services.

A report prepared ahead of the meeting acknowledged that the local authority would create some immediate issues around staffing resources, with staff from Spelthorne no longer part of the service. The former head of the shared legal service, Michael Graham, is remaining with Spelthorne.

The report said external support would be utilised to develop a viable project to commercialise legal services during the 2017/2018 financial year.

The intention is for the proposed ABS/legal company to be costs neutral with the first two years and then revenue generative to the council in future years.

The report ruled out a new shared service. “The experience of the existing service has highlighted that both councils need to maintain a shared vision for legal services,” it said.

“However, the nature of local government and the wider public sector is one of continued and significant change. As a result, it is difficult to identify a partner for a long term shared service.”

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