The Solicitors Regulation Authority has granted a first alternative business structure licence to a local authority.
Buckinghamshire Law Plus Limited will be licensed to undertake litigation and probate services, among other reserved activities.
The entity, which has been planned for more than a year, is a collaboration between Buckinghamshire County Council and the Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Fire Authority.
The licence will enable the new service to take on a broader range of work currently provided by third parties, as well as operate outside the county. Solicitor Anne Davies will be the new head of legal practice.
The county council has a team of around 45 lawyers, with an extra lawyer on the fire authority.
‘This is great news because it will mean that vast numbers of people and organisations who are not normally able to have access to expert legal advice will be able to come to this new company,’ said Davies.
‘The public and voluntary sector community will reap the benefit of having a trusted, and extremely competitively priced, law firm at their disposal.
‘Buckinghamshire Law Plus will have access to experienced solicitors in all areas of the law, while the income generation will bring in much-needed revenue for the council in times of austerity.
‘The council as a majority shareholder can put some of the profits into its reserves which means it will need less money from taxpayers to pay for essential services.’
The firm, which will be established in stages over the next six months, will bring in a projected £1.7m shared profit over the first five years.
It will provide legal services to local authorities, and the public, voluntary and charitable sectors, and is targeting new markets including academies and higher educational establishments, housing associations, health services, ‘Blue Light’ services and mutual organisations.
The licence, effective from 24 November, is expected to be the first of many issued to councils looking to bring legal work in-house and save money on outsourcing.
HB Public Law, a shared venture between the London boroughs of Harrow and Barnet, is still awaiting SRA approval.
Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire county councils – which operate under shared service arrangement LGSS – are also set to make an application. Several other local authorities have indicated they are prepared to set up an ABS.
Crispin Passmore, executive director for policy at the Solicitors Regulation Authority, said: ‘The concept of ABSs was introduced to liberalise the market and encourage innovation in the way that legal services are delivered.
‘The creation of a public sector ABS is a great example of this innovation coming to the fore. It allows councils and other public service providers to pursue the shared-services agenda and realise savings and efficiencies that are passed on to council taxpayers.’