Council outsources its legal services

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News

A preferred bidder to take on Central Bedfordshire Council’s legal services was decided at a meeting on Tuesday.

Local Government Shared Services (LGSS) was chosen from three potential companies to outsource the legal department in a bid to save about £200,000 a year from the council’s budget.

The firm was approved in a private session of the Executive meeting, as discussions included commercially sensitive information.

LGSS is a not-for-profit legal firm, which also provides legal services for Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire councils.

Its executive director, Quentin Baker, is also Central Bedfordshire Council’s interim Head of Legal and Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer.

A council spokesman said: “Whilst we have been working with Quentin Baker as our interim head of legal, he was not involved in any aspect of the selection process for the Shared Service provider, and the council drew on completely independent legal advice for this exercise to ensure there could be no conflict of interest.”

At the meeting, Executive Member for Corporate Resources Councillor Richard Wenham announced, “as a matter of public interest”, concerns over the outsourcing process have been raised to the council’s external auditors, Ernst&Young, under the “whistleblowing” proceedure.

An Ernst&Young spokeswoman said: “EY has recently been made aware of this matter and will take such steps as it considers appropriate, as part of its 2015-2016 external audit of Central Bedfordshire Council.”

The council is aiming for the partnership to be in place by the start of the new financial year in April. However, all negotiations need to be completed appropriately, and it might require a longer timescale.

Independent Central Beds Councillor Adam Zerny said he was “pleased to see the council taking all measures to ensure the tendering process remains impartial”.

“Lest,” he added, “The public get the wrong impression about the contract being handed to a company which has a director employed by the council.”

Under the scheme, the council’s in-house legal team will continue to work at its offices but they will be employed by the partnership organisation, which will be jointly owned by the three councils.

The spokesman said: “We anticipate that we will actually spend less on outsourced legal work because the partnership organisation will have a wider pool of staff with a broader range of skills and, as this is a partnership, the council will retain a strong degree of control and influence on what services are provided.”

The Excutive members have agreed Director of Improvement and Corporate Services Deb Broadbent-Clarke, in consultation with Cllr Wenham, will set out the basis of the deal with LGSS, while “also ensuring that the interests of Central Bedfordshire Council are protected” before entering into a formal agreement.

Any proposed arrangements will be discussed with the Council’s external auditors before being finalised.