A formal tie-up between the first local authorities to set up alternative business structures could be on the table following a high-level appointment.
Hugh Peart, currently director of legal at HB Public Law, the shared venture between the London boroughs of Harrow and Barnet, will next month succeed Buckinghamshire County Council’s legal chief Anne Davies, who is retiring.
In August last year, the Solicitors Regulation Authority awarded the first local authority ABS licence to Buckinghamshire Law Plus, a collaboration between Buckinghamshire County Council and Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Fire Authority. A week later, HB Public Law received ABS approval.
In his new role, Peart will divide his time between Buckinghamshire and HB, and explore ways in which their legal functions can work more closely together ‘to share expertise, cut duplication and reduce costs’, Buckinghamshire stated. He will not be involved with Buckinghamshire Law Plus, which competes with HB in offering services to other public sector bodies.
Peart stressed that no decision about a merger had been made, saying only that he will ‘explore more integrated working’. This could mean ‘anything from sharing a case management system to a complete join-up’, he told the Gazette.
Peter Hardy, Buckinghamshire’s cabinet member for finance and resources, said working with Harrow and Barnet would ‘give us additional opportunities for our legal team to generate income from new customers’.
In June, HB Public Law will take over the legal services of the London borough of Hounslow, creating what Peart said will be one of the largest local authority legal teams in the country, with some 110 lawyers.