As we are all aware from the press coverage, it is a tough time in the Public Sector, with news of severe budgets cuts and recruitment freezes. Those working in Local Government will argue that this pressure to make efficiency savings has been there for some time already, with a steady stream of cost reduction targets having been imposed over the last few years.
eNL were recently fortunate to be invited to a meeting of the individuals from Local Government legal services responsible for driving forward the budget savings on a day-to-day basis. The Business Support Managers Group consists of representatives from all areas of England and Wales, meeting on a regular basis to share ideas and experiences, and to discuss the challenges they currently face.
The general consensus seemed to be that the more obvious and easier to identify savings have already been made and the pressure is now on to find more innovative ways to reduce costs. Shared services and joined-up procurement exercises have already been implemented in councils in many areas of the country, with an increasing number of smaller authorities set to follow this route.
Experiences of shared services and joint procurement between the legal teams of neighbouring authorities were the hot topic of conversation, along with discussions around the concept of ‘Commissioning Authorities’. Whilst commissioning was generally viewed with caution, shared services and procurement were viewed as a success, particularly in terms of the ability to make savings due to economies of scale.
Another option being used by some of the authorities in cutting costs, but preserving the quality of provision, is to enable client departments to handle less complex matters such as traffic orders and guilty pleas in education cases. A focus upon finding new sources of income has led to council legal teams tendering for work from other public sector bodies, from the emergency services to schools, colleges and even other less resourced councils.
Overall, the atmosphere in the room was encouraging; whilst being faced with the challenge of making some of the toughest cost savings yet, these individuals from councils of various shapes and sizes seemed ready to face the challenge head-on, using increasingly innovative ideas to reduce costs to avoid redundancies.