Legal services set to merge at neighbouring councils

ASHFIELD District Council’s legal services are to be merged with Mansfield in a move union bosses have criticised.

Unions claim that plans to share legal services between the two neighbouring councils will not provide any savings and will be a waste of money.

But Ashfield Council’s Cabinet unanimously approved proposals for the potential implementation of a shared legal service with Mansfield District Council at an extraordinary meeting held recently.

Though the details of its new structure have not yet been finalised, the plans would mean that the legal department for both councils would be based at Ashfield’s office in Kirkby.

Addressing the meeting, Coun Chris Baron (Lab), of Hucknall, said that there is a ‘strong business case’ for sharing the legal teams, but in this circumstance, the main driver behind a merger is not to make cost savings.

He said that the main reasons for the change were increased resilience, increased sharing of skills and expertise and improving efficiency.

“We need to develop more efficient and innovative approaches to delivering council services,” he said.

But Unison has hit out at the plans, with Richard Buckwell, chairman of the Ashfield Council branch of the union, saying that it seems to be ‘ideologically driven’.

“There’s no evidence that there will be a better service.

“Union members from both councils are opposed to this and think it is a waste of money.”

The unions have questioned the preferred service structure put forward by the councils, which would result in the creation of a new principal solicitor role at the expense of two frontline members of staff.

The ADC report into the proposals states that if this option was adopted, more than £9,400 would be saved in staffing costs, plus savings of £3,381 in professional membership subscriptions, nearly £20,000 for reference books and £15,000 on external legal advice.

Mr Buckwell added: “Despite it going through cabinet, we are not finished and will continue the fight.”