A look back at 2015 for local authority legal services
With over three years’ experience recruiting into the public sector with Sellick Partnership, I have to say that 2015 has by far been our busiest and most successful year! As the seasons changed, we saw a constant shift in the need for locums within different areas of law and local authorities. The implementation of innovative structures and introduction of new legislation led to legal services having to be flexible and adapt to the consequences of cuts across the board.
Shared services and Alternative Business Structures (ABS)
The 2015 Budget saw local authorities forced to reduce their spending by up to 40 per cent overall. This resulted in increased pressure for local authorities nationwide to try and implement innovative and effective means in order to continue. Legal services came through with a Bang!
Last year was certainly the year for sharing of legal services. We saw HB Public Law at the forefront of expanding their services by bringing in Aylesbury Vale and London Borough of Hounslow last year. South Cambridgeshire, Cambridge City and Huntingdonshire DC formed in October 2015 and in early December was announced that Central Bedfordshire Council has approved the establishment of a shared legal services arrangement with another local authority, to name but a few instances.
Alternative Business Structures were the hot topic of 2015 as we saw LGSS secure their ABS status in April 2015 and Harrow became one of the first London Boroughs to qualify.
In December 2015, the Solicitors Regulation Authority had specified that in order for local government legal departments to provide reserved legal services, they must have an authorised entity such as an ABS. This included advocacy and litigations, meaning we may see even more local authorities in 2016 forming this route
Due to local authorities taking on more work from other public bodies, this has created a demand to recruit more locum lawyers in order to manage the workloads.
The biggest shakeups in legislation for 2015
February 2015: The biggest shake up in procurement law for over 25 years occurred when the new EU Public Procurement regulations were introduced. The new guidelines were to supersede the 2006 principles and be used to implement the new procurement directives. The Procurement rules were reformed with the intent to simplify the process and introduce new ways for public bodies to procure goods and services needed to deliver public services. This may not have affected the locum market directly but the need for contracts specialists has been consistent.
April 2015: The Care Act 2014 was fully implemented in April 2015 which introduced new responsibilities for local authorities. It has contributed significantly to some of the biggest changes to Adult Social Care law in over 60 years. Since April, we saw an increase in the need for locum adult lawyers with more challenges being brought to local government legal services in the way of Judicial Reviews, which ultimately created an impact on legal services caseloads.
June 2015: In June David Cameron was criticised for his Right to Buy plan. The plan extended Right to Buy to Housing Association tenants with the aim of getting people back onto the property ladder. The need for Right to Buy lawyers and paralegals were in high demand into the new financial year with the quota to push applications through.
July 2015 – The need for housing locum lawyers saw a steep increase in July and I believe this was really impacted by the increasing amount of challenges being brought to council’s legal department.
An added impact followed a Supreme Court judgement where local authorities were wrongly assessing the needs of those named 'street homeless' even though there is no definite description in the current legislation.
‘Regeneration’ – the word of the year
Although 2015 has been a tough year with imposed cuts leading to a reduction in spending for local authorities, there were really exciting milestones for the legal profession during the year. Unemployment has decreased to 5 per cent and the prediction for economic growth had increased by 2.1 per cent. Regeneration was the ‘buzzword’ of the year for those that were recruiting planning, contracts and property lawyers. We saw a massive push for locums that require regeneration experience with local authorities implementing new development plans and putting money back into society. Not only are local authorities trying to reduce their spending on external providers, they are now looking at bringing in highly skilled legal professionals to manage the work in-house and with this was the need for locum lawyers.
2015 was a very exciting and challenging year for both local authorities and Sellick Partnership as a business- let’s see what 2016 can bring!
Chelsey is a Senior consultant with over three years’ experience in the legal sector. Chelsey specialises in the appointment of locum lawyers and paralegal into local authorities and central government organisations in London and Hertfordshire.