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New legal services contract agreed at council meeting held behind closed doors

PUBLISHED: 15:51 18 March 2020 | UPDATED: 15:52 18 March 2020

South Norfolk Council. Picture: South Norfolk Council

South Norfolk Council. Picture: South Norfolk Council

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Two Norfolk councils could be set to merge their legal services after plans for a joint contract were discussed behind closed doors.

South Norfolk and Broadland Councils are introducing joint working across their management, staff and IT services.

The two authorities previously adopted a joint domain name and agreed to hold joint cabinet meetings - which will see the public barred from discussions on “strategic collaboration”.

And at a meeting of Broadland’s scrutiny committee, which is responsible for reviewing decisions taken by the council’s leadership, councillors discussed options for “a joint legal service across both councils” in secret.

But minutes of the closed session, published ahead of next week’s full council meeting, revealed the committee agreed to recommend the council agree to the contract with nplaw, as long as a “restrictive clause” was removed from the wording.

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However, the documents did not reveal what the council would be prevented from doing, nor explain what the “issues with the agreement that needed consideration” - which had sparked the need for a review of the decision - were.

Rules governing local authorities allow information to be kept secret if it is deemed either confidential or exempt, with details of Broadland Council’s legal services contract considered exempt, under the Local Government Act 1972.

The minutes of the meeting held on Tuesday, February 4, stated: “Due to the legal services contracts of both councils expiring during 2020-21, the cabinet was asked to look at options for a joint legal service across both councils.”

Both South Norfolk and Broadland work with Norwich-based public sector legal service nplaw, with South Norfolk a stakeholder and Broadland in a service level agreement, and changes to the contract would see Broadland come on board as a stakeholder.

The minutes said: “Following discussions the board of nplaw had invited Broadland to join as a stakeholder and an agreement had been drafted.

“However, there were issues with the agreement that needed consideration and, therefore, a number of other options were outlined.”

The committee voted 12 to one to agree the contract “subject to the removal of the restrictive clause”.

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