STAFFORDSHIRE: Shared legal service to take on more staff
Photo by Staffordshire LDR Kerry Ashdown.
A shared legal service used by three Staffordshire councils is set to take on more staff to cope with demand – and a fourth local authority could also join up.
Legal advice is sought by councils on a range of issues including planning, contracts, local government and election law.
South Staffordshire Council began providing legal support to Lichfield District and Tamworth Borough authorities after they lost their in-house services.
A more permanent shared legal service covering the three areas began in January 2020 with five staff members. Earlier this year it was agreed to add a legal apprentice to the team.
On Thursday (September 9) South Staffordshire Council’s cabinet agreed to expand the staffing further by adding a second planning solicitor as well as a legal services manager.
Lorraine Fowkes, director of legal and governance at South Staffordshire Council, told the meeting the authority was also in early discussions with another local authority considering joining the shared legal service alongside the current three.
She said: “It was set up at the beginning of 2020. Over the past 18 months it has proved quite challenging to deliver the service to three authorities within existing resources and it is clear that model is not sustainable in the long term.
“We are suggesting the introduction of a legal services manager to daily line manage the service. We also seek approval for a further planning solicitor.
“Planning is the largest area as all three authorities are planning authorities. Having one solicitor doing the service for three authorities is unrealistic and unsustainable.
“If we had increased resources that would allow opportunities to increase income generation. Any income generated as a result of that would be fed back into the service and offset increased costs.”
The additional staffing costs will be around £92,000 a year, a cabinet report said, meaning each of the three local authorities will be asked to increase their contribution towards the service from the current £112,300 per year to a maximum of £145,300 for 2022/23, plus any annual inflationary increases.
The report added: “When the shared legal service was established there was an underestimation of resources required and the team are constantly struggling to meet deadlines and provide a quality, timely service.
“Feedback from all three authorities is generally positive and supportive. There have been some service issues, but these have been due to staffing changes and vacancies.
“Satisfaction with the quality of advice provided is high; it is the timeliness of advice that can cause issues. This has not been helped by a high staff turnover within the service.
“Recruitment to the current vacant positions is nearing completion and it is anticipated that this will assist with service delivery.”
Words: Kerry Ashdown, Local Democracy Reporter
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