The government has managed to reduce its spending on outside law firms, according to figures published today - but Brexit could undermine its efforts.

Whitehall's procurement arm, Crown Commercial Service, has been restructuring the legal services framework contract to cut costs. Business information firm Thomson Reuters, which analysed 37 departments' spend, says the bill on external firms fell by 10% over the past two years. In the year ending 31 March 2019 it was £196.4m, down from £217.2m in 2016/17.

However, Brexit could increase the need for spending, Desmond Brady, Thomson Reuters' director of public sector, academic and bar, said. 'The huge additional workload that Brexit represents will likely test the resilience of the Government Legal Department's consolidated model - it will, no doubt, be running at full capacity,' Brady said. 'The legal profession expects Brexit will result in an increase in work for external law firms. We'd expect to see the same picture for government lawyers.'

According to Thomson Reuters' analysis, the biggest spenders included the Department for International Trade, which spent £5.2m on external law firms last year. The department was created in 2016 to manage international trade agreements following Brexit. 

The government's legal services framework consists of four blocks - finance and complex, general legal advice, rail and wider public sector. The Government Legal Department employs around 1,400 solicitors and barristers among its 2,000-strong team.