Local government law is constantly changing and local authorities need to review their services regularly to ensure they are meeting the needs of their communities. This means that those providing legal services to local authorities – both in the public and private sector – need to find ways of working that meet the requirements of current and future circumstances.
The partnering approach helps local authorities and law firms to work effectively and is currently being used by Geldards and Sheffield City Council for a successful working relationship. The organisations involved use the strength of their resources for mutual benefit, going beyond traditional relationships such as provider/client and contractor/sub-contractor.
The firms and the local authorities communicate regularly on matters of interest and engage in activities which are useful to all involved, such as training, update meetings, briefings and publicity.
This approach can be used effectively to pursue business opportunities. Local authorities have limited resources and will be looking for high quality and cost-effective services.
Analysis by local authority and private sector lawyers brings a broad perspective to a potential piece of work, meaning that those who work together in a partnering approach are good at identifying the most effective way of completing work and at writing convincing proposals.
A law firm will have experience of tendering for work and acting on many different local authority matters, whilst a local authority will have political awareness and empathy from working directly within local government. These attributes can be used throughout the delivery of a project and the pooling of resources can help achieve efficient delivery and competitive pricing. Many clients not expect added value from providers of legal services.
The partnering approach allows organisations to combine their skills and resources to provide added value services, which reduces the demand on each individual organisation and increases the impact of the services. Public and private sector lawyers work together as one team, ultimately achieving the best possible results for the team’s clients.
Geldards and Sheffield City Council developed our partnering approach after recognising that each organisation had something to offer the other. We have worked together on a range of initiatives.
So far our focus has been on tendering for appointment to frameworks, which will give us a wide range of opportunities to work together on particular instructions in the future. We succeeded in being appointed to a regional framework which provides us with immediate access to work with six councils and a combined authority, as well as the potential for other public bodies to become customers on the framework.
We produced our tender in recognition of the relative strengths of each of us in different areas, with each body named as the main supplier for some lots and the other in a supporting role. Since appointment we have been planning how to co-ordinate our efforts to win as much work as possible and to deliver as efficiently as possible the added value services required of us.
Our first added value offering was training provided by officers from Sheffield City Council, bringing insight from their experience of school exclusions. On other occasions, we have delivered training together, so giving local authority attendees the benefit of our combined expertise and experience.
We have also given presentations and published articles together. Both Geldards and Sheffield have contributed legal detail and we have given a breadth of views, drawing on our combined experience.
For example, when we gave presentations on income generation by local authorities, one question of interest to local authorities has been how to interest and engage members in income generation activities. Geldards has contributed legal detail and comments on strategy and, as well as this, Sheffield has provided practical insight into the approach it has taken in its own activities.
Anyone listening to our presentations will have received a comprehensive overview of the legal issues and a helpful steer on the practical issues. We have found this approach to really resonate with the public sector.
As well as working together formally to complete client work and pursue business development, the relationship is such that we have regular contact with each other whenever we have something useful to share or need help from each other.
This approach is suitable for any type of services but it will be particularly effective when a client is seeking assistance with several different needs.
For example, the Geldards/Sheffield arrangement enabled both organisations to be appointed to a framework to deliver a wide range of specialisms and to share the responsibility for leading on these. Geldards is leading on contracts and commercial law, highways and environment and local government law and corporate governance, whilst Sheffield City Council leads on childcare, adult social services and community law, general litigation and employment and pensions.
Both Geldards and Sheffield City Council feel they have gained from the relationship and are keen to continue working together. Geldards has commented that its lawyers enjoy working with the council’s officers and have learned from them. Geldards considers that the working arrangements have allowed both organisations to offer excellent services to local authorities.
As a metropolitan district council and a core city, the council covers the full range of local authority legal work but has found that working with Geldards brings additional insight and experience. The skills and insight of each organisation complement each other, enabling them to provide a fully rounded and competitive offer.
This article was originally published in Local Government Lawyer.