The London Borough’s of Merton and Richmond upon Thames have this week had final approval to launch a fully shared legal service, which will help both boroughs significantly reduce their costs and save hundreds of thousands of pounds in the long term.
The plans come following a successful six-month interim arrangement where Merton’s head of legal and electoral services, Helen White, also covered the same vacant post at Richmond and reviewed whether joining forces would be feasible.
It was found that merging the services could lead to a reduction in costs for each council of 20%. Joining the two teams together will also help bring more expertise in-house, with each lawyer working on the case where they have the most experience or where they can best suit the needs of the client.
Aiming to be fully operational by October 2011, Merton will physically host the shared legal service and a newly appointed joint head of service will allow for clear leadership throughout the implementation.
Staff from Richmond and Merton will now be invited to take part in a formal consultation about the suggested new structure. With Merton acting as the host, the proposal is that Richmond staff will be transferred across to a new flatter structure and employed by Merton. Space will be available for staff at Richmond’s offices too so when required for meetings they can base themselves there without the need for unnecessary extra travel.
The full details of the merger will be discussed and determined by the boroughs’ chief executives in the coming months.
Merton Council cabinet member for finance Councillor Mark Allison said:
“As part of our drive to reduce costs and improve services for local residents, the council will take an innovative approach and explore all opportunities to ensure the best results.
“Merton has already successfully merged our HR with Sutton, and by joining legal teams with Richmond we can get economies of scale. Because there will be more in-house expertise we won’t need to hire as many expensive external lawyers, and so we will have a better service and make some of the savings we need to make in one of the most financially difficult times ever seen in local government.”
Richmond Council’s Deputy Leader, Councillor Geoffrey Samuel, said:
“We have said before we will be doing things differently in Richmond upon Thames and we are determined to drive home the best value for money from all our operations that we can. Bringing our lawyers together with Merton’s is an example of how we can protect our frontline services by taking a critical look at how our back office works.
“Cutting 20 per cent out of the costs of running the two services is a very good start – we expect to see savings of £100,000 in the next financial year. Like all councils we have savings targets to meet over the next four years and where we can do it by sharing functions like these, it will avoid cuts in other areas.”