The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham and Thurrock Council are considering trialling a single head of legal and democratic services for a 12-month period, it has emerged reports localgovernmentlawyer.com
The move follows a review of the councils’ legal services, conducted by Thurrock’s head of legal in 2010. This had identified four options for delivery going forwards:
The possible wholesale merger of legal and democratic services at the councils
Shared legal services between the two authorities but with separate heads of service
A shared head of service between the two authorities with sharing of services where feasible, and
Separate services with separate heads of service.
The Cabinet at Thurrock Council is yet to discuss the options, although this is expected to take place on 18 February.
However, at a meeting last month (25 January), Barking and Dagenham’s Cabinet agreed to pursue the third option for 12 months from 1 April 2011. This would see Thurrock’s head of legal and democratic services seconded to Barking and Dagenham on a part-time basis to jointly fulfil the role as head of service and monitoring officer for both authorities on a shared basis.
The council’s leader said it would “allow the idea of a shared head of service to be piloted at the same time as proceeding with an early, full review of the service and the implementation of a changed structure during the first half of 2011/12”.
There would be no formal merger of the two services, but the sharing of services would be explored, including the creation of centres of excellence.
According to the minutes of the Cabinet meeting, the option would “give the flexibility to decide towards the end of 2011 on whether to have a permanent shared head of service and monitoring officer”.
A management restructuring would also take place at Barking and Dagenham, which would see the number of managers in the legal team reduced in order to make savings of 20%. According to comments attributed to the legal partner and contained in the background report prepared for the Cabinet meeting, six current legal management posts would be deleted and replaced by two group manager posts reporting to a divisional director of law and monitoring officer.
“Inevitably such a reduction in legal support and expertise combined with an inevitable merging of certain distinct specialisms will mean there is a reduction in capacity and expertise at the council’s disposal than at present and members will wish to be satisfied that the final structure is fit for purpose in the light of the legal responsibilities across the council’s functions and associated risks,” the legal partner added.
The background report suggested that the restructuring would enable savings of between £450,000 and £500,000 to be achieved “in line with the requirements of the support services review”.
The Cabinet authorised Barking and Dagenham’s chief executive to finalise the arrangements, subject to Thurrock Council’s approval.