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LEGAL COSTS WILL RISE WITH COMPETITION

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The more legal work that is subject to competition, the greater the danger of councils ending up with higher costs ...
The more legal work that is subject to competition, the greater the danger of councils ending up with higher costs and a worse service, the local authority associations have told the DoE.

The associations were responding to the Coopers & Lybrand study published last month which considered options for putting up to 70% of councils' legal work out to compulsory competitive tendering. Their response says no more than 35% of legal work should be tendered if core services are to be protected and urges the government to take a cautious view.

'An overall percentage requirement of 40% would be less satisfactory', says the associations' report. 'A 45% requirement would put the viability of support for core services seriously at risk', it says.

Their assessment of what would be appropriate closely resembles the DoE's original proposal for a 33% competition requirement which was based on recommendations from PA Consultants two years ago.

The associations say they are concerned that the methodology used by Coopers in its study of legal CCT 'significantly underestimated' the extent or importance of work relating to providing legal advice to the council, its committees and council members.

The report is also critical of the narrow view Coopers takes of CCT. 'The associations are concerned that within the report, suitability for CCT is treated solely as a technical issue, as opposed to whether it is practicable or desirable, based on a view as to whether external provision is possible and whether it has, in fact, been done'.

The associations note with regret that the Coopers report did not fully cover issues of concern to local government, such as: The costs of competition including those involved in preparing specifications and monitoring contracts; The risk of jeopardising existing high standards of legal work in councils - 'there is no analysis which suggests that the overall quality of legal services currently provided in house to local authorities is other than of the very highest'; The effect on internal communications as new client/contractor relationships are forged; The need to avoid bureaucratic procedures and duplication of functions.

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