Kent County Council has given the green light for its legal department to apply to become an alternative business structure.
In a meeting last night the council decided to pursue an ABS application, which it hopes will be processed in the next 12 months.
Kent aims to tender this summer for a commercial partner in a joint venture and will begin immediate discussions with the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
Geoff Wild (pictured), head of Kent Legal Services, told the Gazette that ABS status would allow Kent to maintain its client base and expand into new areas of work through its commercial partner.
He said: ‘As more authorities and public sector bodies are outsourcing, a lot of our work is being done in the private sector and under SRA rules we can’t work for private sector bodies.’
Kent Legal Services has 125 lawyers and currently advises more than 300 public sector bodies, including police, fire, education and health authorities. But Wild said: 'Spending cuts are such that clients’ business is shrinking.’
Kent will also benefit from the efficiencies of collaborating with a commercial partner, such as making use of existing technology investments, said Wild.
He also raised the possibility of outright privatisation, saying the move would create an even more viable business, should the council wish to ‘cash in its chips’ in the future and sell Kent Legal Services.
Kent County Council was one of the first legal service teams to become a business in its own right and generate external income for the authority. Last year Kent Legal Services recorded 2012/13 profits up by 20% to £2.4m on turnover up 10% to £12m.
Local authorities are increasingly looking to ABS models to generate extra income and claw back work from outsourcers.
Last month the London Borough of Lambeth told the Gazette it was considering applying for two ABS licences in a bid to pre-empt local authority work going to commercial firms.