The role of senior legal officers in supporting the development of alternative service delivery models

Published: 16 October 2015

In last quarter’s edition of the newsletter, Bambos Eracleous from our interim management business explored the new leadership skills and experience that will be needed to respond to both the devolution agenda and the development of alternative service delivery models.

To explore this theme further, and from my own recent experience working with some of the most innovative authorities in the country, many of the issues he raised will be felt most keenly by the authority’s Director of Legal / Monitoring Officer. In my view, this role has become central to the development of alternative service delivery models and in protecting the authority’s reputation during periods of significant policy and legislative change.

Government policy has in many cases increased demand for legal services in areas such as debt recovery, commercial property transactions and, as result of re-organisation and restructuring, employment matters. Add to this the move to a strategic commissioning model and the Head of Profession for Legal Services has become an increasingly important component in developing often first-time, trading vehicles, complex outsourcing deals or joint ventures.

And let’s not forget the Monitoring Officer aspects of the role. Elected Members have an important role in the strategic commissioning model in that decisions begin and end with councillors’ democratic relationship with local residents who in turn have a strong voice in shaping the services they want to use. Members must ensure that what is commissioned really reflects the priorities of local communities and is affordable. This places a greater emphasis on this part of the role to ensure services meet local need but which are also ‘safe’ for the council as a commissioner.

So what are the skills and attitudes needed of such an individual?

  • A “can-do” rather than a “can’t do” legal approach. No longer “we’re not allowed to do things like that”, but now “let’s find a way to do that”
  • A focus on the art of the possible whilst protecting the financial security of the council
  • An ability to commercialise legal services and find innovative ways to support the commissioning and contracting of council services
  • A good working knowledge of different service delivery models and what is best suited to each service
  • The intellect needed to scan the horizon and start now to prepare for future legislative and policy changes
  • Experience of working with Members at a local level to shape services which are citizen centric

Nick Cole is a Consultant in our Public Sector and Not-for-Profit Practice. He specialises in senior management recruitment to roles in the corporate centre within local authorities

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