It has been revealed that Sutton Council paid a law firm more than a quarter of a million pounds last year 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.

The aim of the SLLP has been described as a service to "provide more resilient and higher quality legal services than that provided by each authority individually."

Budgetary savings was also one reason the group was set up.

But for the 2019/20 financial year, Sutton Council paid law firm Trowers & Hamlins (T&H) £262,552 for work surrounding 'contracts and commercial'.

The year before that, the council paid a little more than £115k to that same firm, with 'property' work also adding to the bill.

These payments came shortly after the SLLP appointed the international law firm. A press release issued by T&H in May of 2018 said it had been appointed for legal advice on a "broad spectrum of areas."

Helen Randall, partner and public sector commercial expert at T&H led the firm's team on their proposal. She said at the time: "This appointment is really exciting, for us as it strengthens our relationships with the five London boroughs and provides fresh opportunities to share our commercial experience to enable SLLP in their objectives of innovative service delivery to ensure the boroughs can continue providing essential public services.

Your Local Guardian:

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

"Our local government, procurement, real estate and planning practices have been rated as market leading for many years and we are looking forward to working collaboratively with colleagues at SLLP."

Neither T&H nor Sutton Council have yet commented on the specifics of the work that totalled nearly £400k.

But a comment issued by the council's FOI team read: "The council’s spend with external solicitors only where specific expertise is required that isn’t available in-house or where additional capacity is required."

T&H isn't the only firm that the council have employed. Since 2015/16 the council has spent £533,417 - spread across eight different law firms - on outside legal help.

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

  • 2015/16 - £14,968
  • 2016/17 - £42,167
  • 2017/18 - £25,710
  • 2018/19 - £184,503
  • 2019/20 - £266,070

A Sutton Council spokesman said: "SLLP is a five borough shared service providing in-house legal services to the five boroughs in question. 

"External solicitors are instructed by SLLP on behalf of the five boroughs where specialist expertise is required or where the in-house team has limited resources to deal with a large project.

"External firms are normally picked from a framework agreement which enables SLLP to obtain competitive hourly rates from those firms on the framework. The framework is EM Lawshare.

"The fees paid to Trowers & Hamlins relate predominantly to a large project requiring advice on acquisitions, procurement and various other matters in relation to a construction project which LBS is leading on."