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Islington and Camden council chiefs accused of cover-up over plans to merge legal departments

13:05 21 May 2014

Islington Town Hall

Islington Town Hall

Anna Bruce

Leaked documents reveal Islington Council is considering merging with other boroughs in a radical shake-up of how public services are delivered.

There are plans to outsource and merge legal services across nine London boroughs – leading to fears it could pave the way for other departments, such as housing and childcare, being shared between local authorities.

A consultation costing £150,000 has been carried out by legal brokers, Kennedy Cater, who say the new plans could be implemented as soon as September.

The Gazette also understands there have been meetings between the leaders of both Islington and Camden councils and their chief executives to discuss sharing leisure and library services.

An email highlights concerns among some council officers about sharing its legal services, stating it could “dilute the quality of the work” already achieved in Islington, which has won industry awards.

It also states there would be “major” data protection issues and huge costs incurred.

Leader of the council Richard Watts said “conversations” had taken place between Islington and Camden about sharing services but nothing had been decided.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition at Islington, Terry Stacy, said: “I have no problem with merging some services but why have they covered it up, why are they not telling the public before the election?”

He said Islington’s libraries and leisure centres, especially those near to the border with Camden, could be at risk of closure if the councils decided to share services.

He said: “Camden is building a brand new swimming pool and library at King’s Cross so what does this mean for Cally Pool and the Lewis Carroll Library which are all within walking distance of Camden?”.

The leaked plans outline proposals to create “centres of excellence”, with each council being in charge of running a legal service for a particular specialist area.

Another option would be to create an “Alternative Business Structure” with lawyers for all London boroughs working together under one business.

Cllr Watts said the council’s legal department had been asked to look at ways to save money.

Asked whether other services were likely to be merged, he said: “There have been conversations about sharing services between us and other boroughs. They are part of routine conversations that go on between local authorities. There are no plans to share certain services with Camden, but with major budget cuts on the way, it’s natural that we are having these conversations with our neighbours.”

“There is no proposal on the table and no policy agreed that we do any of this.”

Islington already shares its audit services with Haringey and public health with Camden.

“Councils working together will continue to happen in the future. What services we choose to share will be decided on a case by case basis.”

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