The Solicitors Regulation Authority has finally licensed the first local authority alternative business structure (ABS), after approving the collaborative law firm set up by two Buckinghamshire local authority legal teams, Legal Futures can reveal.
Buckinghamshire Law + Limited – which is made up of solicitors from Buckinghamshire County Council and Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Fire Authority – will start operating on 24 November.
It plans to serve both authorities and to offer legal services to other councils, emergency services and charities, and generate a shared profit of £1.7m for the two authorities over the first five years.
The ABS’s head of legal practice is Anne Davies, head of legal and democratic services at the county council. She said: “This is great news because it will mean that vast numbers of people and organisations who are not normally able to have access to expert legal advice will be able to come to this new company.
“The public and voluntary sector community will reap the benefit of having a trusted, and extremely competitively-priced, law firm at their disposal.
“The overall benefits are potentially enormous. Buckinghamshire Law Plus will have access to experienced solicitors in all areas of the law, while the income generation will bring in much-needed revenue for the council in times of austerity. The council as a majority shareholder can put some of the profits into its reserves which means it will need less money from taxpayers to pay for essential services.”
She added: “The advice we are offering will be on all forms of law relevant to the public sector from solicitors nuanced to reflect the needs of the public sector.
The head of finance and administration is non-lawyer Mark Caprio, business regulation and compliance officer in the county council’s legal team. Overall there will be around 70 members of staff.
Peter Hardy, county council cabinet member for finance and resources, said: “I am thrilled that Buckinghamshire has become the first authority to be granted this licence. It is a bold and exciting move which should really benefit everybody involved, as well as helping our taxpayers.”
Crispin Passmore, executive director for policy at the Solicitors Regulation Authority, said: “The concept of ABSs was introduced to liberalise the market and encourage innovation in the way that legal services are delivered. The creation of a public sector ABS is a great example of this innovation coming to the fore. It allows councils and other public service providers to pursue the shared services agenda and realise savings and efficiencies that are passed on to council tax payers.”
In a statement, the Legal Services Board said: “We are pleased to see this positive step as it builds on the potential that ABS offer and opens the door to new possibilities in the legal services sector and the provision of legal services. We look forward to seeing what Buckinghamshire Law + Limited now does and the positive response of traditional legal practitioners to the significant development.”
It is the first of what is expected to be a series of local authority ABSs. Lambeth council has said it is applying for two ABS licences, while HB Public Law, a joint initiative by the London boroughs of Harrow and Brent, is hoping its ABS licence will be approved shortly. Kent County Council has recently run a procurement exercise  to find an ABS partner.