Cuts will compromise council’s ‘capacity and resilience’

Solicitors in local government are not standing idle while their employers struggle to adjust to a long winter of austerity. They have pioneered innovative operating models in the face of a shrinking client base, new entrants to the market and deep spending cuts.

As we reported last month, councils in the south-east are among those leading the way through the establishment of alternative business structures, the first of which have recently been licensed.

These are no panacea for the sector however, as we are reminded this week by Cornwall council’s stark assessment about how austerity will affect its own in-house legal operation. Many jobs will go, the ‘capacity and resilience’ of the service could be compromised and there is an increased risk of mistakes.

Cornwall deserves credit for its candour. And notwithstanding the particular challenges facing England’s poorest region, it would be naïve to suppose that we are not going to see much more of this. Cornwall is one of the first authorities to set out in detail its plan for budget cuts as local authorities contemplate a £5.8bn funding ‘black hole’ by the end of 2015/16.

HB Law’s Hugh Peart told a conference of local government lawyers earlier this year that they risked ‘sleepwalking into oblivion’ unless they radically change the way they work. Cornwall’s travails underline just how apposite that warning remains.