Merton Council has defended spending more than £200,000 on outsourced legal advice in the past four years, despite having its own in-house team on call.

The South London Legal Partnership (SLLP) was set up in 2011 and it works on behalf of Merton, Richmond, Kingston, Sutton and Wandsworth councils.

On the Merton Council website, it describes the aim of the SLLP service as to "provide more resilient and higher quality legal services than that provided by each authority individually."

It also added that one of the goals of the group was to make future budgetary savings.

Merton's deputy leader and cabinet member for finance, Councillor Mark Allison echoed those sentiments: "Since 2011 the council has saved more than £1 million on legal costs by setting up the South London Legal Partnership and sharing our expertise with other councils.

"This example of good businesslike practice has also meant that there is a greater calibre of expertise in-house."

But a Freedom of Information request by the Wimbledon Times has revealed that despite the forming of the SLLP, hundreds of thousands of pounds are still being spent seeking legal help elsewhere.

Wimbledon Times:

The breakdown of money spent by Merton Council on outsourced legal help

Since the 2015/16 financial year, the council has spent £230,580 outsourcing work to 10 different private solicitors, with more than half of that money being spent on a single law firm, Lewis Silkin.

This particular expenditure was to do with a matter of employment (the council did not provide any further details) and cost the council £126,145 in 2016/17 and a further £840 the following year.

Other types of work which the council has paid to have outsourced include 'contract and commercial', 'property', 'planning' and 'child protection'.

Cllr Allison defended the use of outside help.

He added: "Occasionally we still need expert advice from top lawyers in order to ensure we provide a good service to residents, particularly in specialist areas.

"During the period since SLLP was launched, councils have lost more than half of their funding, so any money we save on legal services helps protect the services that are most important to our residents."

The total amount of money spent by the council on outside solicitors is as follows:

  • 2015/16 - £5,024
  • 2016/17 - £147,098
  • 2017/18 - £6,802
  • 2018/19 - £39,482
  • 2019/20 - £32,174