Merton and Richmond launch trial of shared service

Two London borough councils, Merton and Richmond, had sign off this week on a move that could bring together the two councils’ legal teams in the longer term.

Already endorsed by Merton and signed off by Richmond Council on Tuesday night, the agreement will see the appointment of an interim joint Head of Legal and Electoral Services, bringing together the two councils’ legal and electoral teams.

From August 1 2010, Merton’s current Head of Civic and Legal Services, Helen White, will join Richmond as Interim Head of Legal and Electoral Services and her remit will include developing proposals on a fully shared service.

By taking the lead and joining together, Merton and Richmond could save thousands of pounds in the long term. With both council’s a similar size and sharing a similar amount of workload in this area, it is anticipated that if the trial works this arrangement could become permanent subject to the normal decision-making processes.

The opportunity for Helen White’s joint appointment will arise as Richard Mellor had already announced his decision to retire from Richmond Council after 21 years.

Helen White said:

“I am delighted to be taking on this opportunity. There are many positive outcomes to be gained from working in partnership and I am sure that bringing these two teams in Merton and Richmond together will help create the most efficient way of working.”

Councillor Mark Allison, Merton Council cabinet member for finance said:

‘We are constantly on the lookout for innovative new ways to improve our service and cut costs, and Helen’s appointment will give Merton and Richmond six months to look at all the options available, including a shared legal service. If all goes well, that would mean we could call on specialist legal expertise from Richmond, and vice versa, rather than having to employ more expensive lawyers elsewhere, which could help both councils make significant savings.

“Irrespective of the cuts being put upon us by Government, this is the sort of sensible good practice we are looking to introduce to make the council more efficient and effective for residents and we may see more of it in the future.’

Councillor Geoffrey Samuel, Richmond Council’s Deputy Leader, said:

“I hope Helen White’s joint appointment with Richmond upon Thames will lead to financial savings and a service which provides improved value for money for both authorities. In due course it will serve as a model for how we can share other services in the future.”

“This is a sensible, prudent move allowing us to quickly bring on board an experienced head of service in an important area.”