In a move that has been welcomed by the Legal Services Board, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has granted an alternative business structure (ABS) licence to local authorities for the first time, as Buckinghamshire County Council enters into a joint venture with Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Fire Authority.
Entitled Buckinghamshire Law + Limited, the collaboration will become effective on 24 November with the Council’s in-house solicitors able to operate under a private limited company and licensed to undertake litigation, administration of oaths, probate services, and other reserved instrument activities. Buckinghamshire County Council head of legal Anne Davies will lead the new legal practice.
The firm is to be established in stages over the next six months and will bring in a projected £1.7m shared profit for the two authorities over the first five years. The SRA gave the green light to the legal team after months of preparatory work for the proposed shake-up.
A statement today (8 August) said it will ‘combine the legal expertise of the Council’s team with that of Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Fire Authority to provide legal services to local authorities, and the public, voluntary and charitable sectors.’
Implementation will take place in a series of tranches over the coming six months, starting from September and subject to cabinet member agreement.
Head of legal Davies 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.’
SRA executive director for policy Crispin Passmore added: ‘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.’
The Legal Services Board welcomed the new venture, and 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.’
A report published by the SRA in February revealed that up to 700 companies, public authorities and charities could be considering the business case for applying for an ABS licence.
Other authorities to have signalled ambitions for an ABS licence includes Kent County Council. In April its legal arm, Kent Legal Services, confirmed it was seeking ‘expressions of interest’ from potential alternative business structure (ABS) joint venture partners in advance of a formal procurement exercise to launch this summer as part of the council’s wider programme to raise funds.