Issue - meetings

Review of Legal and Committee Services

Meeting: 26/10/2011 - Corporate Governance Committee (Item 7)

7 Review of Legal and Committee Services pdf icon PDF 104 KB

Report of the Director of Law, HR and Asset Management to follow


A report by the Director of Law, HR and Asset Management provided an initial review of the capability and capacity of the Council’s Legal and Committee Services teams and requested the Committee to provide a steer on how to progress the review by determining an appropriate way forward.  The review picked up one of the specific lines of enquiry identified by AKA in the Corporate Governance Report and was part of Work Stream 4: “Undertake a Series of ‘System Stress Tests’ Across the Council”.  The report set out the current position and the challenges which faced the teams.  The Director also informed that he would be presenting a further report to the Committee at a future meeting setting out options to address these challenges.


The Director reported that new and evolving areas of law had become increasingly relevant to the work of a local authority and listed examples.  In addition, other legislative changes had affected specific service areas and had added to the demand for support from Legal Services.  These additional demands had accumulated over the years and the existing lawyers had responded and taken on new areas of responsibility.  This had placed increasing demands upon these individuals in question (and often resulted in a long hours culture); and meant that new and complex areas of legislation were being dealt with by lawyers who specialised in other areas of law.  This was a risk to the authority.  The result, not surprisingly, was that that the most common complaint about the legal service was that of delay because of the sheer volume of work.


Consequently, Legal Services had become almost exclusively reactive rather than proactive.  This too was a risk to the authority.  Investment was required to establish a fit for purpose Legal Service, as additional lawyers were needed, with relevant specialist knowledge of local authority law.


To address the issues the Director had identified and mitigate risks he made two recommendations: That


  (1)  the proposed bringing together of the Planning and Environment and Property functions should proceed.


(2)  a new Corporate Governance team be created within Legal Services.  This team would focus on the following areas of work:


·  Procurement and Commissioning (including contract disputes and, where

appropriate, termination)

·  Freedom of Information; Environmental Information Regulations; and

Data Protection

·  Equalities and Human Rights

·  Whistleblowing and Complaints

·  Standards and Ethical Governance

·  Supporting the democratic process (providing legal advice on

Committee/Cabinet reports)


The report also set out the tasks that the Committee Services team currently performed and identified the following factors that meant that it was being put it under increasing pressure:


  • Since 2008 Committee Services has been reduced by five F/T posts: 2

PO4, 1 Band H and 2 Band G posts.

  • Increase in the number of scrutiny call-ins which mean convening Special

meetings of Overview and Scrutiny Committees.

  • At least 1 agenda and 1 Supplement are prepared by Committee Services for every Council meeting.
  • The Cabinet meets every 3 weeks and Committee Services prepares at least 2 agendas each time (1  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7