Hello to all.

It is as ever a busy week for Local Government, and therefore for local authority lawyers. Those involved in the forthcoming Referendum are by all accounts incredibly busy managing the difficulties involved with running such an electoral event, as well, no doubt as considering the likely impacts of the result, no matter what the result will be. There are the usual large numbers of variable issues affecting Local Government, ranging from working out the real impact of the Housing and Planning Act 2016, developments in the Devolution Agenda at local level, growing concerns about funding social care and delivering effective integration with health, especially in light of the crisis in care homes; and those good old stalwarts of bins and fly tipping are always tin there somewhere (even now that Mr Pickles is a fading memory as Secretary of State, his legacy lives on…).

I could have written about all or any of these and promise to do so in detail in the future, but for my first blog for Local Government Lawyer I thought that I would choose something a little different. This was prompted partly by going along to the launch earlier this week of a paper written by Collaborate, which is a social business based at the London South Bank University. They have written some very interesting papers around the subject of cross sector collaboration in public services and can be found here. If you or your council is interested in collaboration, and frankly, what council is not these days; I would urge you to have a look.

The event this week was to launch a paper called “The Anatomy of Collaboration”, focused primarily on health and social care, although the parallels between these sectors and other public services delivery are obviously very strong. It was a fascinating launch, followed by an in-depth discussion about the necessity for collaboration and what is needed to make collaboration possible so that better outcomes for service users, people and place can be delivered. What has to happen across in public services is to move from managing supply, to managing demand, and this is achieved most effectively by collaboration. In terms of overcoming the financial and other resource shortages hitting the public sector at a growing pace, it probably offers the best, if not only, solution. It is however a long-term issue. And those involved in public health, the integration of health and social care and the impact of the Care Act know that one of the biggest policy shifts over the last few years has been the welcome move to a longer term preventative agenda rather than one that is merely reactive; we also know that the substantial investment which is required to make this a reality is often still very difficult to find.

This led me to think about what the demands are for local authority lawyers in the future. Whilst I can’t see that the need for core legal skills across property, housing, childcare etc. will go away, the ways in which those skills are delivered, may very well change, as may the balance of  where those skills lie within, or indeed, outside the legal services team of a council. As lawyers climb the organisation puzzle tree inside the Council however, there will also, I believe, be a requirement for a substantial skill set which goes well beyond professional expertise into delivering a wider advisory capacity. Senior lawyers already do this, of course, and very well indeed in many cases, but the shift, which will also of course affect other senior officers within the council, may well be that managing  the governance of the complex delivery chains is something that takes up a growing part of their time. We all know for example that partnership working is not easy and it never will be. So what! Partnership agreements and other collaborative arrangements, some based on harder edged commercial deals; others on arrangements of a more collaborative nature will be needed, and the skill will be to devise these so that they deliver the Council’s strategic priorities in a way that is effective for the service user and affordable for the public body.

As the duplicity of arrangements becomes more complicated local authority lawyers will need to be able to advise upon how those can be put into place with governance arrangements that work, are pragmatic, focus on patient or service user need, and have the right levels of bureaucracy (as you always need some) and accountability in place. These arrangements, advising on them, developing them, monitoring them and explaining them, and the time this will take up for the most senior lawyers in the council, will I believe be of huge importance for many local authority lawyers in the future. The importance of doing this should emphasise the need for these legal skills at the top table.

This article first appeared on the Local Government Lawyers Newsletter on 10th June 2016.

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Please contact Olwen Dutton