Hike in council spend on external legal advice, research finds

16 Aug 19

Nearly a third of UK local authority legal spending went on external law firms last year, BBC analysis has shown. 

Councils spent £322m on in-house legal teams but another £142m was spent on external legal services, according to 2018-19 figures from 270 of the 408 councils in the UK.

The BBC, which also analysed data over a five year period, found that of the 270 respondents around one third spent more on external legal advice in 2018-19 than in any of the previous four years.  

Some authorities blamed increased legal costs on involvement with major infrastructure projects such as HS2.

South Northamptonshire, through which HS2 will run, saw its external legal spending rocket by 234% from £7,877 to £26,302 over the last five years.

A spokesperson told the BBC this was caused, in part, by its preparations for the new HS2 high-speed railway between the West Midlands and London, and development of its Local Plan.

“Some of this can be predicted and some not,” they told the BBC. “The type and amount of legal advice required in any particular year will depend on the issues that the council is dealing with.”

The Local Government Association noted that councils face issues in employing enough in-house lawyers.

A spokesperson for the LGA told the BBC that nearly half of councils it surveyed reported “significant recruitment and retention issues when it comes to appointing in-house lawyers.”

As a result many councils were relying on locum lawyers and had to outsource work to external legal firms.

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