South West Wales consortium pursues tenders for law firms and barristers

Local Government Lawyer - Wednesday 21st July 2010

The South West Wales Legal Consortium has this month launched a tender for law firms, and is working on plans for a tender for barristers' chambers in September. The aim is to have framework agreements in place by the end of 2010.

The move is the latest stage in the development of a “virtual” shared legal service by the six original members of the consortium. They were: Carmarthenshire County Council; Bridgend County Borough Council; Ceredigion County Council; Pembrokeshire County Council; Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council; and Swansea City and County Council.

Panels will be set up for a range of areas, including litigation, commercial conveyancing, planning and environmental law and so on. Member authorities believe the tenders will provide a pool of external expertise at reduced rates, as well as faster instruction and service delivery.

For the purposes of the tenders, the consortium has been widened to 12 unitary authorities, a national park authority, two police authorities, a fire service authority and a university (see below for a full list).

The framework agreements will be made available to other local authorities and public sector organisations, including schools, further education colleges and registered social landlords.

The tender seeks expressions of interest from “firms of solicitors with knowledge of Welsh legislation or who are prepared to obtain such knowledge”.

The procurement exercise for barristers is expected to begin in September, and it is initially anticipated that there will not be a pre-qualification questionnaire stage.

Bridgend – with the assistance of legal consultancy First Law, whose fees are being met with funds from the Welsh Assembly – is leading the procurement exercise.

The original member authorities are currently progressing six work streams, covering:
1. Organisation, including a joint workforce plan and a joint plan for trainee solicitors
2. IT infrastructure, including a tender for a single case management system
3. Joint procurement, including legal library arrangements as well as legal services. The group expect to save £40,000 on library costs in 2010/11 alone
4. Training and development, including the development of a joint 15-month training and development plan
5. Best practice, including a review of end-to-end processes with key clients
6. External income, including an assessment of the potential opportunity to create a sustainable income stream from providing services to other public bodies.

Twelve special interest groups have already been set up by the partner authorities in a range of areas, such as housing, education, planning, childcare and civil litigation. These are being supported by an online discussion facility.

All the authorities are understood to have agreed to undertake work for each other, subject to capacity. Only if work cannot be handled by another authority will a council use the call-off contracts.

The full list of participating authorities is as follows:

Bridgend County Borough Council
Caerphilly County Borough Council
Carmarthenshire County Council
Ceredigion County Council
City and County of Swansea Council
County Council of the City and County of Cardiff
Dyfed Powys Police Authority
Gwent Police Authority
Mid & West Wales Fire & Rescue Authority
Monmouthshire County Council
Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council
Newport City Council
Pembrokeshire County Council
South Wales Police Authority
Swansea University
Vale of Glamorgan County Borough Council