A London council is to proceed with the outsourcing of regulatory services such as building control and land charges after fighting off a High Court challenge.
The court today dismissed an application for a judicial review against the London borough of Barnet’s programme to outsource a wide range of services under its One Barnet programme, dubbed ‘easyCouncil’ for its no-frills concept.
In Nash v Barnet LBC, the claimant, local resident Maria Nash, sought to challenge the programme on the grounds that the council had failed to comply with statutory and other obligations to consult, that it had failed to carry out an impact assessment under the Equality Act 2010 and that the council would be in breach of its fiduciary duty to council taxpayers if it went ahead.
Lord Justice Underhill today ruled that the claim was out of time. However he also ruled on the substantive questions, saying that even if the claim had been made in time he would not necessarily have allowed it.
Commenting on the public sector equality duty, he said: ‘The judgment as to whether the provisions of the contract adequately address the interests of groups with a protected characteristic is for the council, and not the court, to make; and its assessment could only be challenged if it fell outside the wide discretion which it enjoys.’
On fiduciary duty, he said the evidence had ‘not come close to establishing the kind of reckless disregard of the principles of financial planning or management that is necessary to make good a claim of this kind.’
The Conservative-led borough said the judgment represented a ‘clear and complete’ victory.
Richard Cornelius, the council’s leader, said: ‘Lord Justice Underhill could not have been clearer in ruling the application for judicial review as out of time and in accepting that the council had met equalities criteria.
‘I hope the applicant and her lawyers will carefully consider the wise words of the judge before embarking upon an appeal and incurring even more costs that will have to be met from public funds.’
He said the judicial review had already cost the council more than £300,000.
Nash’s solicitor, Gerald Shamash of London firm Steel & Shamash, said Nash would appeal.
The authority said it will proceed with the second phase of its outsourcing programme, appointing a contractor to run development and regulatory services, including building control, planning administration, land charges, and trading standards and licensing.
Their privatisation is believed to be the first by a UK local authority.