Local government lawyers should worry more about ensuring they have the ear of the chief executive than being at the 'top table', a former head of the civil service has suggested.

Lord Kerslake (Robert Kerslake) told a Lawyers in Local Government event on good governance today that he understood the desire for in-house lawyers to be part of their organisation's board. 'What matters is that those people at the top table, you have access to them, and they're listening and hearing what you have to say,' he said. 'I would be more worried about getting access to the chief executive, listening to what I'm saying, than being at every meeting.'

Kerslake has worked at the Greater London Council, Inner London Educational Authority and London Borough of Hounslow in finance roles before becoming chief executive of the London Borough of Hounslow in 1990. In 1997 he became chief executive of Sheffield City Council. He was appointed permanent secretary of the Department for Communities and Local Government in 2010.

Kerslake recalled learning the value of local government lawyers during his time at Greater London Council. 'I learned a huge lesson about the importance of process of decision making and the importance of having good-quality legal advice. Even if it annoyed the hell out of you sometimes, it was [necessary],' he said.

Good governance is an 'all-embracing concept that has to be part of the way local authorities and every organisation - public or private - conducts itself,' he added. Characteristics of good governance are accountability, transparency, being lawful, and being responsive and fair in the way the organisation governs.

Briefly discussing Brexit, the crossbencher told the event he thought Brexit 'is an exercise in damage limitation', adding that there would be no version of Brexit 'that does not leave us less influential as a country'.