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Collaboration and change

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Essex Legal Services Partnership (ELSP) is at the forefront of local government partnerships and is now entering its second full year of operation. It has 15 authority partners and working together in those numbers is never going to be a walk in the park.

ELSP operates an internal market place where work that formerly would have been externalised into the private sector, which has much higher hourly rates, is delivered at set rates by other partner councils who may have the capacity to take up that additional work. The hourly rates are all agreed so no negotiation is needed by partners.

There is a discrete legal services extranet running across the partnership that provides a skills and resource data base, along with training event news, other knowledge sharing and a work environment for special interest groups such as planning, governance, housing etc. providing communities of interest.

Joint appointments have been made to fill capacity gaps, such as a commercial lawyer, a costly area of legal work, with demand risk being managed by the county council. We are currently setting up a framework for counsel across the east region which will help manage costs in another prime area of expenditure.

There are no complex governance arrangements of the kind that can sometimes frighten off those who would like to develop shared services but feel that the arrangements can be too complex, just a partnership management board that sets the direction, resolves issues and keeps the partnership on track financially.

ELSP is taking the opportunity to work with communities and contribute to the Big Society by seeking to develop public law career paths with universities, adding something back - and to help develop the local government lawyers of the future - using the professional good will of the lawyers, a variant on pro bono for the public sector.

ELSP also hopes to extend the practice to work more closely with parish and town councils giving them access to professional expertise at lower market rates.

As all local government looks to work differently, could this model work for other services? Yes, as it’s really about working in the best way with other councils and other public bodies to utilise collective skills and capacity, to start to manage vacancies and consider pooling resources to fill the voids, providing a better and more efficient all round service at lower costs. It doesn’t have to cause relocation of teams or TUPE transfers, it relies on real partnership.

We all need to recognise that collaboration is a journey, and the destination is quite possibly out of sight but the journey and the view from the train is worthwhile.

Use judgment in developing the arrangements as not all aspects need to have unanimous agreement; and in any partnership not everyone has to agree with everything. That way the journey at least will be a little speedier.

Enid Allen is programme adviser to Essex Legal Services Partnership

Authorities in Essex Legal Services Partnership:

  • Basildon DC
  • Braintree DC
  • Brentwood DC
  • Castle Point DC
  • Chelmsford BC
  • Colchester BC
  • Essex CC
  • Harlow DC
  • Lee Valley Regional Park Authority
  • Maldon DC
  • Rochford DC
  • Southend-on-Sea BC
  • Tendring DC
  • Thurrock BC
  • Uttlesford DC
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