The two local government bodies racing to become the first to set up an alternative business structure in the public sector have reached the final hurdle of their applications - securing professional indemnity insurance - it emerged today.

Buckinghamshire County Council together with Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Fire Authority and HB Public Law, the shared venture between the London boroughs of Harrow and Barnet, are about to hear if they have secured insurance, the final stage of their ABS applications to the Solicitors Regulation Authority. 

Hugh Peart (pictured), director of legal at HB, said today he expects the council to get approval within a month. He told the Law Society’s In-house annual conference that the council decided to be a guinea pig for the ABS route as government lawyers face a ‘perfect storm’ in their fight for survival.

‘There is a question mark as to whether as a sector we can survive,’ he said. ‘I’m not saying that setting up a shared service and applying for an ABS [will necessarily be] right. But we’d rather try that and be in charge of our destiny than have my chief executive receiving a call from Capita [about taking on the council's legal work].’

An ABS licence might allow councils to generate extra income as the heaviest austerity cuts are expected to fall within the next four years, he said. ‘Our budget will go down by 60% by 2018,’ he said. ‘All other cuts we’ve had so far are trifling in comparison,’ he said.

Gazette research recently revealed that the number of councils set to apply for an ABS is about to mushroom.