Two London councils are to share the cost of procuring barristers in a bid to save local taxpayers tens of thousands of pounds a year, it was announced today.
Southwark and Lambeth councils have launched a £10.4million, four-year interboroughs framework agreement aimed at securing “significant reductions” in the cost of barristers’ services.
Barristers are currently commissioned on a case-by-case basis from barristers’ chambers.
But under the new agreed framework, both councils will use a panel of barristers covering a range of specialist areas – planning, property and contracts, housing litigation, children and adults, education, employment and general litigation.
Between five and ten chambers will provide services within each of the panels and the framework will handle the majority of cases where the specialist services of barristers are required such as advocacy before the courts and tribunals, legal advice and support in the conduct of legal proceedings.
In the long term both local authorities intend to open the panels to other councils which will be charged a fee for access.
Southwark has budgeted to spend approximately £1.5m on barrister instructions over the next financial year, with Lambeth spending £1.3m last year.
Using the list of approved barristers is set to deliver savings of £100,000 per year in legal fees for Southwark and £100,000 for Lambeth by securing more competitive rates and economies of scale.
It is also part of a programme that includes empowering in-house lawyers at the councils to provide greater development opportunities, through the training offered by chambers as part of the agreement, to build on their legal expertise and provide a better service.
A report issued by Southwark said: “The Southwark Lambeth Barristers Framework enables the council to work closer with our neighbours and as such is in line with the council’s priority to find innovative ways to find financial efficiencies through joint work with other south London local authorities.”
The report said the aim of the procurement exercise was to achieve ‘significant reductions’ in the cost of legal fees, while at the same time improving on the already high quality of legal advice provided.
Cllr Paul McGlone, Lambeth Council’s cabinet member for finance and resources, said:
“We are looking at ways to cut back office costs and deliver savings for taxpayers across every council department, and it is efficiency ideas like this one that can have a real impact.
“This new arrangement will save thousands of pounds which will help protect front line services for residents in both Lambeth and Southwark. Where it makes sense to share services with other councils, we will, because by working together we will be better placed to protect residents from the impact of national spending cuts and deliver key services that matter to local people.”
Councillor Richard Livingstone, Southwark Council’s cabinet member for finance and resources, said:
“Sharp falls in central government funding mean we are having to radically change the way we work as a council and come up with innovative and radical solutions to cut back office and administrative costs and deliver savings to local taxpayers.
“By sharing the procurement costs for barristers’ services with our neighbours in Lambeth we hope to secure more competitive rates and save £100,000 a year in legal fees.
“Through collaborating with other councils we can work together to meet the challenges of delivering higher quality services with scarcer resources.”
The new framework will come into force in April 2012.