Three councils plan to share legal services

Lichfield councillors have backed plans to join forces with two other local authorities to share a legal team.

Lichfield District Council
Lichfield District Council

Lichfield District Council previously had its own in-house solicitor as the Head of Legal, Property and Democratic Services, who oversaw the instruction of external lawyers and barristers as well as providing advice.

But the position has been vacant since April, meaning the council has been using the services of external lawyers and South Staffordshire Council’s legal team when it needs advice during recent months.

South Staffordshire Council has been providing a similar service to Tamworth Borough Council too. And the three authorities are now considering the establishment of a former shared legal service.

A report to Lichfield District Council’s cabinet said: “Over the last few months the three councils have been exploring whether a shared legal service for the three partners is the best option. Lichfield and Tamworth are currently without in-house legal support, whilst South Staffordshire has grown its legal team in recent months.

“All three councils have similar requirements for legal support and all three incur similar levels of annual spend on law.

“Annual costs vary because of major projects or cases progressing at the time. Such cases could include, for instance, major planning inquiries (and) judicial reviews, outsourcing contracts such as leisure management, or joint venture agreements with developers.”

The shared legal service could start on January 1. South Staffordshire Council is set to be the “host authority”.

It is estimated it would cost around £355,000 a year – and Lichfield District Council would be asked to contribute £110,000, plus £30,000 to fund the costs of external lawyers including barristers.

During 2018/19 Lichfield District Council’s annual total net legal spend was £163,645. And in 2017/18 it was £202,881.

At Tuesday’s cabinet meeting councillors welcomed the plans.

Councillor Angela Lax, cabinet member for legal and regulatory, said: “I’m very pleased this is progressing. The shared legal service will ensure we have our own in-house department.

“It is proposed to be the Southern Staffordshire Legal Service and the most important thing, when we go through this, is that it is going to give us value for money. We can’t avoid the lawyers and legal costs – it’s how we pay for it and how much you want the best.”

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