Two East Sussex local authorities have become the latest to merge legal services in the face of spending cuts – but say they are growing rather than contemplating redundancies.
Under the merger, the legal team at Eastbourne Borough Council will transfer to the employment of Lewes District Council on 1 April.
The combined venture will provide a shared legal service to the councils and potentially outside organisations. It has already hired three additional lawyers, including public procurement expert Celia Cullen, formerly head of local government at international firm Pinsent Masons.
Cullen will support procurement and contracts work, and develop the councils’ income generation ambitions, the authorities said.
They have not ruled out the possibility of setting up an alternative business structure to compete for external business. A corporate services review last year considered ABS status, but the authorities decided that the establishment of a ‘third party’ entity would be ‘too great a step’ at this stage.
So far only two local authority-owned ABSs have been approved by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
The review states: ‘Moving straight to a more market-oriented service could introduce a degree of separation and distance from departments which would not be welcomed by clients.’
Meanwhile, Kent County Council said it would create a new general counsel role if its Kent Legal Services arm is granted an ABS licence following a planned tie-up with a commercial partner. The GC will act as the local authority’s senior lawyer and encompass monitoring officer responsibilities and democratic services.