Venue: County Hall North, West Sussex County Council, Parkside, Chart Way, Horsham, RH12 1XH
Contact: Emma O'Donnell
APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE
To receive apologies for absence.
Apologies were received from Cllr Jeremy Hunt and Cllr Richard Burrett.
An apology of absence was also received from Abraham Ghebre-Ghiorghis who was substituted by Elizabeth Culbert.
DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
Members and officers are invited to make any declarations of personal or prejudicial interests that they may have in relation to items on the agenda and are reminded to make any declarations at any stage during the meeting if it then becomes apparent that this may be required when a particular item or issue is to be considered.
There were none.
To agree the minutes of the last meeting as a correct record of the meeting.
The minutes of the previous meeting held on 20 January 2017 were agreed as a true record of the meeting.
Items not on the agenda which the Chair of the meeting is of the opinion should be considered as a matter of urgency by reason of special circumstances.
There were no urgent matters.
With the committee’s agreement, the Chairman suggested item 6 was taken before item 5.
PROGRESS UPDATE- PRESENTATION
A presentation by the Director of Law and Assurance, WSCC.
Declarations of interest:
Tony Kershaw, Director of Law & Assurance, West Sussex County Council.
Ann Charlton, Director of Legal, Democratic & Cultural Services, Surrey County Council
Philip Baker, Assistant Chief Executive, East Sussex County Council.
Elizabeth Culbert, Head of Legal Services, Brighton & Hove City Council
Key points raised during the discussion:
1. The Committee received a presentation outlining the spread of work across the legal services of all four authorities.
2. Members noted that childcare and commercial cases accounted for 69% of the legal services workload.
3. Officers explained that developing a resilient collaborative partnership across the four authorities would enable some of the challenges around finances and recruitment and retention to be addressed, and for expertise to be pooled to allow more specialised cases to be dealt with by the most appropriate person. It was recognised that building centres of expertise was important and that this would contribute to the generation of some cost savings.
4. Officers informed the committee that increasing demand in childcare advocacy cases was challenging and there were some instances where authorities were having to pay external solicitors to take on case work. The increase of childcare advocacy cases was put down to changes in society’s attitude towards safeguarding and it was suggested that childcare cases typically increase after times of economic challenge, although there was no reason behind the growth in demand being so constant in recent times.
5. The Committee was informed that the partnership currently had seven advocates, and were trying to recruit a further four in order to get the advocacy team to an optimum size to deal with the growth in demand. This in turn would help manage savings by reducing reliance on external advocates with higher costs.
6. The partnership is working with the Court Service to reduce the reliance on paper through the introduction of a digital court system. This relationship with the Court Service would not have been achievable by a single authority, so the partnership has provided some leverage in this area.
7. Officers highlighted the importance of all partners having access to a common system and a shared approach to IT, to allow for work to be shared. Members noted that a shared legal services agreement had been signed and a common Case Management system had been welcomed by lawyers and was working well for all partners. A plan to align practice management had been developed and was included in the Business Plan.
8. Members were informed that the partnership had introduced an initial 5% work sharing target as a way of getting staff used to how the partnership would work and as a way of keeping more work in-house. This was expected to grow. There was some discussion around charging and how this would operate, however it was expected that all partners would play an equal part in the delivery of work sharing. In the eventuality that a balance was not being achieved, a charging mechanism would be introduced to ensure parity.
For the Orbis Public Law Joint Committee to be aware of the early achievements of the partnership, the aims and ambitions for its future and the planning for how they may be realised.
Declarations of interest:
Tony Kershaw, Director of Law and Assurance, West Sussex County Council
Ann Charlton, Director of Legal, Democratic and Cultural Services, Surrey County Council
Philip Baker, Assistant Chief Executive, East Sussex County Council
Elizabeth Culbert, Head of Legal Services, Brighton and Hove City Council
Susan Smyth, Orbis Strategic Finance Manager & Orbis Public Law Finance Lead, Surrey County Council
Emma Nash, Orbis Public Law Project Manager, East Sussex County Council.
Key points raised during the discussion:
1. Members commented that the details in the business plan were too high level and they requested more granularity. Members also requested the inclusion of targets and financial information within the business plan, so that it was clear to see whether targets were on track to be achieved.
2. Officers explained that all partners undertook legal work for other public sector organisations and that OPL may bid for future work of this nature as a way of increasing income. There was some discussion around public sector spending and how taxpayers’ money is spent effectively to deliver the best possible services.
3. Members noted that pilot testing of a new system to manage contract documents was underway, with a view to rolling this out across the partnership. It was suggested that the system could drive a lot of efficiencies within the operation of the legal service.
4. Officers informed the Committee that income is mostly generated through pension fund conveyancing, property and developer fees and from services provided to other public sector bodies and schools.
5. There was some discussion around the future operation of the partnership and whether it would seek an Alternative Business Structure (ABS) from the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA). Officers explained that there was some work to be done around building an architecture for OPLs future operations, however an ABS would not allow the partnership to do anything that it is not able to do already. It can continue to trade with other public sector bodies under existing powers.
6. Members requested a timeline to be included within the business plan, with outputs given timescales for achievement. Officers explained the plan was developing and evolving with the partnership, however it was ready to be finalised as an initial document that would be reviewed and modified as appropriate on a monthly basis.
7. The Chairman suggested that given the challenges currently faced across all partner authorities, the Committee should meet before March to review and approve the revised business plan.
Actions/ further information to be provided:
Officers to revise business plan with suggested amendments.
Officers to identify a date for an additional meeting of the Committee in January 2018.
Members noted the business plan and commented as appropriate.
ANY OTHER BUSINESS
The Chairman took the opportunity to thank Ann Charlton for her contribution to the committee and the OPL partnership and wished her well ahead of her upcoming retirement.
DATE OF THE NEXT MEETING
The next meeting of the Orbis Public Law Joint Committee will be held in March 2018, date to be confirmed.
The Committee noted that a meeting would be arranged to be held in January 2018.