Second local authority ABS: we are not a threat to law firms

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13 August 2014

Farmer: joint bidding with Bevan Brittan

HB Public Law, the shared legal service set up by Harrow and Barnet councils in London, has been granted an alternative business structure licence by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

It follows the approval of the first local authority ABS by the regulator last week – Buckinghamshire Law + Ltd, made up of legal teams from Buckinghamshire county council and Milton Keynes Fire Authority.

Licences for both ABSs will become effective later in the year – HB Public Law’s on 1 December and Buckinghamshire’s at the end of November.

Jessica Farmer, head of legal at Harrow and COLP of the ABS, said the delay could be explained by the “long list of things to do” the SRA had given HB Legal, including amending the council’s constitution.

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After a “long process”, Ms Farmer said she was very pleased the ABS license had finally been granted and that “hopefully things might get a bit quicker” for other local authorities.

“We applied because councils are outsourcing their work to other joint venture companies or the private sector,” she said. “We saw our regeneration or planning work being outsourced and we just wanted to keep doing it. Our impetus is not to take work off other people.”

Ms Farmer said the firm’s partnership with law firm Bevan Brittan meant that they could jointly tender for work, and share training and expertise.

HB Legal employs 75 lawyers on a mixture of permanent and temporary contracts, and is based in separate offices at the civic centre in Harrow. Ms Farmer said the future ABS was currently recruiting for a further 14 staff.

Hugh Peart, director of legal and governance services at Harrow council, will be COFA of the ABS.

HB Public Law was launched in September 2012 with the merger of Harrow and Barnet’s legal departments.

Paul Philip, chief executive of the SRA, commented: “The concept of ABSs was introduced to liberalise the market and encourage innovation in the way that legal services are delivered. The creation of HB Public Law is a great example of this innovation coming to the fore. This should in turn create even more efficient services and savings for their council taxpayers.”

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