Recent events we’ve attended…

by Kerryn Woollett, Senior Solicitor

NWL Legal recently took part in De Montfort University’s (DMU) Legal Networking Event held over 3 days from 15 to 17 November 2021.

NWL Legal delivered a webinar providing students with an insight into what it’s like to work in the Legal Team at a Local Authority.

Local Authorities are a pivotal part of government and provide a vital role for local communities, however, sometimes the career opportunities at Local Authorities are not realised.

DMU’s Legal Networking Event gave NWL Legal the opportunity to promote the work it does for the district to aspiring law students to help them consider a career in Local Government. Work includes regulatory enforcement such as licensing, statutory nuisance, health and safety, and housing conditions as well as planning, commercial and property law.

Legal work carried out by NWL Legal’s is complex and varied and offers students a challenging and exciting career.

NWL Legal’s trainee solicitor also took part in the webinar and offered students a valuable insight into what it’s like undertaking a training contract with a Local Authority. The benefits are being able to carry out work in a number of different areas of law simultaneously as well as the high level of support offered by team members. Working in a small legal team also gives the trainee the opportunity to get involved in legal work, such as legal research and managing her own files, from an early stage.

In addition to the webinar, NWL Legal’s Team Manager also delivered 1 to 1 sessions with students. This enabled students to have individual time with a highly experienced solicitor where they could ask all those burning questions about what a career in law is really like.

NWL Legal is grateful to DMU for the opportunity to participate in this event and looks forward to working with DMU in the future.

NWL Legal has also been getting back into to the “real world”. NWL Legal attended both the Society of Local Council Clerks (SLCC) conference in October and the University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC) conference in November. These conferences offered delegates the option of attending in person or online. It was about a 50/50 split between online attendees and face to face attendees, showing the convenience provided by the virtual world will ensure virtual conferences/meetings etc. are here to stay. However, NWL Legal chose to attend in person where it had an exhibitors stall. It was great to see people in the flesh and have them pop over to our stall to discuss all things legal but not only that, just to have a friendly chat.

These conferences were well received by all and NWL Legal looks forward to being involved again in the future.

Disposal of Local Authority Land

Helen Lisney

by Helen Lisney, Legal Officer

In the current economic climate local authorities are always looking for ways to tighten their belts and may look to realise assets to enable them to continue to carry out their services.

The Government policy is currently that local authorities should dispose of surplus or underused land.

If a local authority is minded to dispose of any land in its ownership it will need to take into consideration the provisions of the Local Government Act 1972

Section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972 provides that a principal council (including a district council) has a general power to dispose of land in any manner they wish, subject to the conditions imposed by that section.

Section 127 mirrors the provisions in relation to land held by parish councils.

The following dispositions are classed as disposals:-

  • A sale of freehold
  • The grant or assignment of a lease exceeding seven years
  • The grant of an easement.

Whereas most private land owners are free to sell their land at whatever price they choose, a local authority is in effect acting as trustee for the community. Section 123(2) provides that a council shall not dispose of land for any consideration less than the best that can be reasonably obtained in the market except with the express consent of the Secretary of State.

Open Space – under section 123(2A) of the Act if a local authority wish to dispose of land held for open space purposes then they are required to advertise their intention in a local newspaper for two consecutive weeks and to consider any objections received. It is important that this is done before any final decision is taken on the disposal so it can be shown that proper consideration has been given to any objections raised. It is important to note that this requirement will relate to any lease of local authority open space land even if the lease is to be granted for a period of less than seven years.

The consideration at best value is calculated on a purely financial basis and often a local authority will wish to take other matters, such as ethical issues or community benefit into consideration when disposing of land.

If a local authority considers that it is appropriate to dispose of land at less than best value then it will need to obtain the consent of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State has granted a general disposal consent in relation to local authority land. The Local Government Act 1972 General Disposal Consent 2003 enables a local authority to dispose of any interest in land that it considers will help to secure the promotion of the economic, social or environmental well-being of its area.

The general consent will not apply to any transactions where the undervalue is in excess of £2 million pounds, in which case a specific consent will need to be applied for.

The general consent will also not apply to land held for housing purposes, although there are general consents relating to types of disposals relating to this land.

Assets of Community Value

It is not unusual for land owned by Local Authorities to be registered as an Asset of Community Value under the provisions of the Localism Act 2011. Whilst this does not prevent the disposal, if does confer additional duties on the land owner (e.g notices to interested parties and moratorium periods). Any local authority seeking to dispose of such land will need to ensure that the provisions of the Localism Act 2011 are followed.

When determining whether to disposing of land the local authority should take the following steps:-

  • Ensure that it complies with any procedural requirements (e.g in relation to open space)
  • Either market the property, or obtain a professional valuation of the property and any undervalue to ensure that you are aware of the best consideration.
  • Ensure that any legal or other professional advice has been considered, and that any decision to dispose of land at an undervalue has been documented and is capable of justification.
  • Ensure that any disposal is in line with the Council’s policies.
  • Ensure that any decision to dispose of land at an undervalue falls within the General Disposal Consent.
  • Ensure that if the land is listed as an Asset of Community Value, all of the notice and moratorium requirements are followed.

Provided that these steps are followed, and the appropriate legal and property advice is obtained, then a local authority should be able to dispose of any land surplus to its requirements.

Working remotely as a Trainee Solicitor

by Lauren Sturgess, Trainee Solicitor

I have been working as a trainee solicitor at North West Leicestershire District Council for five months now. I am really enjoying the position and what it entails and feel that I am now confidently settling into the position.

As a trainee in any job would be, I was slightly apprehensive about starting my new position as a trainee solicitor working remotely. I questioned whether I would be able to learn and develop the skills and knowledge required to qualify as a solicitor in the same way that I would working in an office alongside my colleagues. However, five months in, I feel that I have really adapted to working remotely and I am continuously learning each day. The help and support from the legal team has been great – knowing any of the team are only a Microsoft Teams call away to assist me with any queries or questions I have.

I also feel that working from home has enabled me to become more of an independent learner. I am having to use more of my own initiative to complete tasks independently, to then receive feedback from my supervising colleagues. I personally feel this is a good way of learning for me as it really enables me to develop new skills, which can be used again in the future. It has also enabled me to ensure I am proactive with asking questions, to ensure I am obtaining the most out of my training in each area.

Thinking practically, working remotely has also enabled me to be able to work well and adapt to working in many different environments. I really believe this is a good skill to have given that many employers are starting to reflect the Council’s modern way of working, incorporating remote working into many roles. One example of this is as part of a professional skills course (an educational course which I am required to complete to become a qualified solicitor) I had to undertake an advocacy module online. Although I felt I may have benefited from the training face to face, it was really beneficial to develop the skills online when I considered that currently many Court hearings are remote. Someone who may have undertook the training in person, may feel they are limited to that face to face environment and may be apprehensive about conducting any advocacy online.

In addition to this, as a trainee there are so many online training courses and webinars available to me. This is particularly beneficial as I can fit the training around my day and complete the courses from my own home, as apposed to the logistics of having to arrange travel and a full day of absence.

One thing I would say I have found challenging is the reduced social contact having never worked from home before. I feel I am quite a sociable person and have really become used to this in my previous working life, having worked in retail for a number of years alongside my university studies. However, as I am adapting to remote working I am becoming more and more comfortable with working from home and developing a good daily working routine. Having a scheduled daily meeting with the whole of legal also provides a good way of communicating with my colleagues. I also have a number of meetings each week with my supervising solicitors and clients which helps too.

Another challenge I found when starting my position at the Council in a remote environment was not being able to meet with Members of the Council and my colleagues. It was quite overwhelming at first to be communicating via email with a number of different names and positions within the Council but not being familiar with the officers and their roles.

However, this challenge was overcome through arranging meet and greets over Microsoft Teams with a number of officers and Heads of Service within the Council. This enabled me to introduce myself and my background to a number of officers I would be working with regularly throughout my training contract. It also enabled me to obtain a better understanding of each department’s work responsibilities and the kind of work they require from legal.

Along with the majority of officers within the Council, as a trainee it has been great to enjoy the benefits of being able to work from home and working flexibly. I feel the remote position has enabled me to develop a good work life balance- especially being able to log off from work and already be at home, saving myself an hour of travel each day!

Working remotely has also not limited the range and depth of legal work that I have found myself involved in over the past four months. Working within contracts, property, litigation and planning law has meant that every day working as a trainee solicitor for the Council feels unique. It has enabled me to develop new skills and interests, and face new challenges each day.

So far I have really enjoyed the work I have undertaken in civil litigation. Working with our Senior Solicitor, Kerryn Woollett on disrepair claims has been really insightful to understand the process and stages that must be followed in response to a claim. It has also been really interesting working on Court forms and documents, such as Acknowledgment of Service and Defences that are require a lot of attention to detail.

I have also worked on civil injunction applications. As part of this, it was good to meet with the environmental protection officers. During this I had to seek instructions from internal clients and advice from our appointed barrister as well as respond to the defendant’s solicitor, all on the day of the hearing, as my supervising solicitor was away. This felt quite high pressure at the time but I was glad that it all went well!

Within planning I have been drafting a number unilateral undertakings for planning applications, mainly for River Mease contributions. This has been really insightful, particularly due to my lack of planning knowledge before this role. It has been good to see the kind of agreements entered into when planning applications are granted and the information that must be included in a formal document to give effect to these agreements.

When working in property I have been working alongside our Legal Officer, Helen Lisney on sales of Council owned houses to existing tenants under the Right to Buy Scheme. I have really enjoyed this so far seeing how the sale progresses from start, to eventually completion. The more I am working on these sales I am feeling more confident to complete the stages independently and correspond with the buyer’s solicitors.

Finally, within contracts I have really enjoyed drafting a Contract for Services and seeing the stages that follow on to completion of an agreement after the contract is drafted. It has also been a really good way for me to understand what’s happening within the local area to see what contracts the Council are involved in.

Six tips for managing multi-generational teams

by Elizabeth Warhurst, Head of Legal and Commercial Services and Monitoring Officer

Elizabeth was asking by the Law Society to write an article about how she tailors her management style to suit everyone within a multi-generational team. Elizabeth explains her approach and shares her tips here.

Join our team!

Senior Planning Solicitor

Band G plus up to 5 market supplements

£34,728 – £43,857 per annum, full time permanent contract

Are you ready to step into a management role, or do you have existing management experience that you would like to continue to develop?

Do you enjoy, and have significant experience in, the areas of planning and regional development?

Would you like to have the opportunity to further develop your skills by receiving mentoring support from a leading national law firm?

If you have answered yes to these questions, our Senior Planning Solicitor vacancy might be the role for you!

What are we looking for?

As our new principal planning lawyer you will lead on all planning legal matters for the Council, as well as external clients (as required).  You will have line management responsibility for one team member, so previous line management experience, or an eagerness to step into a management role, is required.  As a senior member of the legal team, you will assist and support the Legal Services Team Manager and Head of Legal and Commercial Services in areas of corporate governance, as well as building strong and lasting internal and external relationships.

What can we offer to you?

This is a fantastic opportunity for a specialist planning lawyer to take a step up into a senior role, taking on new challenges and management responsibilities.  Your development is important to us, so we will support you throughout as you take this next step in your legal career.

Through our partnership with Browne Jacobson LLP, with whom we work on a number of legal matters, we’re delighted to be able to offer the successful candidate a unique opportunity for mentoring support, helping you to settle into the role and to develop the skills you will need in order to thrive.  This includes:

  1.  A dedicated mentor from Browne Jacobson. Your mentor will be an experienced member of their planning law team.  They will be available at the end of the phone to support you as needed and to meet regularly to discuss ongoing matters;
  2. The opportunity to attend any internal training events at Browne Jacobson and the chance to shadow their planning lawyers where unique training opportunities arise; and
  3. Support from Browne Jacobson on any complex planning matters where you can learn from advice they provide direct to the Council.

Are we right for you?

NWLDC is a solution-focussed council.  Through listening and fair and balanced decision-making, we strive to do the best we possibly can for our community.

Legal Services play a vital role in ensuring good governance and helping officers find solutions to problems with a ‘can do’ approach.  The Legal Services team has an existing external client base of 32 clients, with plans to grow it even further.

You will be joining a team of specialist lawyers, each with their own areas of expertise, including contracts and procurement, property, regulatory and enforcement.  Our structure enables everybody to focus on their own specialisms whilst also being exposed to other areas of law through close working relationships with colleagues.

You will be supported by a first-class administration and practice management team, as well as working closely with information governance colleagues as needed.

As a Council we are embracing flexible working, acknowledging that the old days of 9-5 at the office do not need to be the norm.  Your role will be classed as a hybrid role, recognising that there may be times when you need to attend the offices (for example, to attend a committee meeting) but outside of that, as long as it works for us too, we are happy for you to take a flexible approach to your working arrangements.

Are you right for us?

We want you to succeed in this role.  To do so, you will need to be able to undertake work in the areas of planning and regional development; S106 agreements; planning enforcement; permitted development; and compulsory purchase orders.  You will also need to be comfortable acting as advisor to the Council’s planning committee and as an advocate at public/ planning inquiries and all courts.  This will be subject to experience and relevant training, including the mentoring support from Browne Jacobson, as you develop into the role.

You will need to be able to advise in the context of local government law and therefore experience of this is desirable but not essential, as we would hope that this develops over time.

To fit in well with the team, you will be proactive, a quick learner, able to work flexibly and someone who can bring enthusiasm to the role.

If you would like to know more about the role feel free to contact Kate Hiller, Legal Services Team Manager on 01530 454379 or by email to kate.hiller@nwleicestershire.gov.uk

 

You can apply for any of our posts online at https://www.nwleics.gov.uk/pages/jobs_and_careers

Applications must be made using the on-line application process.

Disabled applicants who meet the essential criteria for the job will be guaranteed an interview.

We welcome applications from all sections of the community.

Closing Date: Sunday 19 September 2021

7 months and not even counting!

by Kate Hiller, Team Manager and Deputy Monitoring Officer

It has been 7 months since I joined NWL Legal as the Legal Team Manager and I can honestly say that the time has flown by!  So much has happened in that time and I am proud of what we as a team have achieved over the past few months, especially in this new virtual world.

I never would have imagined that I would be starting somewhere new and spending the first 7 months only having met a couple of the team in person.  It is truly testament to what a fantastic team we have that notwithstanding this, I felt welcome from day 1.  It feels like we are a tight knit team, even though we are all remote working, proving that distance does not have to be a barrier to effective team working.

During my time here, I have seen talent move on in our planning lawyer moving onto pastures new and our previous trainee solicitor qualifying (and securing herself a post-qualification local government role) but have welcomed new talent in our new trainee solicitor, Lauren.  This reflects the growing our own nature of our team and we are grateful to have the resources and opportunity to develop up and coming lawyers in this way.

As a Council, we have seen Members return to face-to-face committee meetings, we have reviewed our constitution and are going through governance processes to approve the changes, and we have grappled with the new LGA Model Code of Conduct for Members, working with our neighbouring Leicestershire authorities and the LGA to make consistent changes.  We have also proudly incorporated EM Dev Co Limited as a development collaboration between local authorities, with lawyers working as part of a project team within NWLDC and being a legal lead for the 3 district and boroughs involved.

Within the Legal team, we have been reviewing our processes – not least because of our new ways of working.  The team have embraced working flexibly whilst ensuring we still deliver excellent client service and meet client needs.  We have moved to monthly billing to give both our external clients and us more certainty on fees.  We have also been reviewing how our internal clients instruct us and how we instruct external solicitors when we need to, in order to make sure everybody gets the right advice when they need it.

The team has ploughed through numerous land transactions, contracts, planning agreements and enforcement matters, all with good humour and dedication to achieving the client’s objectives.  It was fantastic to see the achievements of Kerryn and Rebecca being recognised when they were shortlisted for the LLG awards last month and I was delighted that Kerryn won the Best Newcomer Award having done an excellent job settling into a new role during the pandemic (having started only a few months before me).

Having changed councils for the first time in my 9-year legal career, I have learnt that every council is different but also in many ways, they are completely the same!  It has been a fantastic 7 months and I cannot wait to see what the next few months have in store…

Top Tips for Statement Writing in Civil Proceedings for Local Authority Officers

by Kerryn Woollett, Regulatory and Enforcement Solicitor

  1. Witness statements should be written in the first person.
  2. Witness statements should follow the chronological sequence of the events.
  3. Witness statements should be divided into numbered paragraphs.
  4. Each paragraph should, as far as possible, be confined to a distinct portion of the subject.
  5. Witness statements must state:
    1. the full name of the witness;
    2. the address at which he or she works;
    3. the position he or she holds;
    4. the name of his or her employer; and
    5. that he or she is the employee of a party to the proceedings (and which party that is).
  6. Include details of how long the current positon has been held.
  7. Also include details of any previous positions held, provided these are relevant, for example if you have been the Licensing Team Manager for 2 years but prior to that you were a Licensing Officer for 15 years this would be relevant.
  8. Include details of any other relevant experience and/or qualifications.
  9. Witness statements must indicate:
    1. which statements in it are made from the witness’s own knowledge and which are matters of information or belief, and
    2. the source of any matters of information or belief.
  10. All numbers, including dates, should be expressed in figures.
  11. If you need to be authorised to take certain action (for example serve a notice, enter property etc.) a copy of your authorisation document should be exhibited to your statement.
  12. Each exhibit should be identified, using the initials of the person making the statement, numbered consecutively within the statement and be in bold, for example ‘KW1’.
  13. Any documents referred to, for example, letters, photographs, notices etc. should be exhibited, unless exhibited to a colleague’s statement.
  14. Where a witness refers to an exhibit or exhibits, he or she should state ‘I refer to the (description of exhibit) marked ‘…’’.
  15. Witness statements must be verified by a statement of truth, the wording of which is as follows “I believe that the facts stated in this witness statement are true. I understand that proceedings for contempt of court may be brought against anyone who makes, or causes to be made, a false statement in a document verified by a statement of truth without an honest belief in its truth.”
  16. Where a witness makes more than one witness statement to which there are exhibits, in the same proceedings, the numbering of the exhibits should run consecutively throughout and not start again with each witness statement.
  17. Exhibits should be preceded by a cover page.
  18. The pages of a witness statements should be numbered consecutively.
  19. The last page of a witness statement should not include the statement of truth or signature alone. The last page should include the last paragraph of the statement along with the statement of truth and signature.
  20. Witness statements should be signed and dated – the date should be the date on which the statement is signed.

If you need any support with witness statement writing, please do not hesitate to contact us at legal@nwleicestershire.gov.uk

Benefits of Public Service Legal Work

by Meera Patel, Trainee Solicitor

Furthering the Public Good

One of the main and most important reason why lawyers work in house for local authorities is because it gives them an opportunity to become involved in decisions affecting their local community.

As an in-house local authority lawyer you support an important public cause – equal access to justice for local people and groups. Such a cause can provide a feeling of personal satisfaction and achievement that you might not gain defending large corporations in the private practice sector.

Better Work Life Balance

I have worked for the public sector for six years and not all of those in the legal sector. One of the most important attributes for me and a key decision why I applied for training contracts within local authorities was because of the emphasis on a work life balance for all employees.

There are no fixed nine-to-five work days. Employees have flexible schedules and opportunities to work from home and/or part-time hours. Such practices are common for in-house public sector lawyers, especially those at North West Leicestershire District Council.

Public sector government lawyers are not under the same pressure as private practice lawyers to meet high billable hours or fee targets. The work culture is often more relaxed as the focus is on providing a solution based service rather than profit.

Valuable Experience and Training Mentoring and Networking Opportunities

As a Trainee Solicitor at North West Leicestershire District Council, an authority that is a part of the East Midlands Lawshare consortium and has valuable connections with other local authorities, fire & rescue authorities, universities, national parks, NHS trusts and town and parish councils, I have had a lot of exposure to training opportunities, networking events and mentoring opportunities. Such opportunities have helped me to build relations with a number of professionals including public sector lawyers and lawyers within private practice, whom I can turn to for advice and are readily available to provide training and support.

The lawyers at North West Leicestershire District Council have the support of senior staff to attend training sessions both within the EM Lawshare framework and other private companies to further their professional development.

Whilst working at North West Leicestershire District Council I have had the pleasure of working closely with team members to market our services externally given the current clients’ needs and having to be more commercially driven. NWLDC have been very forward thinking in their approach as a Local Authority and implemented NWL Legal to ensure that we are meeting the needs of our clients whilst understanding the remits we work within.

Do I Need a Public Consultation?

This note provides guidance to Officers on when they should carry out a public consultation when they are making changes to services or implementing a project. It also sets out the principles that need to be followed in order for a consultation to be appropriate and lawful.

Do I need to consult?

There are three stages to this question:

1. Is there a specific duty to consult that is set out in the legislation and/or statutory guidance that I am working under? For example consultation is required on:

a) the Council’s proposed budget (Local Government Finance Act 1992)

b) Matters of Housing Management (s105 Housing Act 1985)

c) Public Sector Equality Duty (s149 Equality Act 2010)

If a consultation is required, the people specified in the legislation as needing to be consulted must be consulted.

2.Does the “Best Value” duty to consult apply? Under s3 of the Local Government Act 1999 and Best Value Guidance, a consultation is needed if:

a) the Council is making changes (and in particular reductions) to the services being delivered;

b) the Council is reducing or ending funding to an external organisation

If a consultation is required then representatives of tax/rate payers, services users and interested parties must be consulted.

3.Is a consultation needed in the interests of fairness? For example:

a) Have we previously said that we would consult before doing something?

b) Have we consulted in the past before doing the same thing?

c) Will the impact of the decision or project be particularly serious on one location or section of the public?

d) Is this a significant change to the way the Council has done things in the past?

If a consultation is needed, the affected people or bodies need to be consulted.

What makes a good (and lawful) consultation?

The Courts have given some guiding principles to follow in order to ensure a consultation is satisfactory. These are known as the Gunning Principles[1].  These principles are:

a) The consultation must be at a time when proposals are still at a formative stage. It must not be a “box-ticking exercise” which cannot impact on the decision being made.

b) The proposer must give sufficient information to allow intelligent consideration and response.

c) Adequate time must be given for consideration and response.

d) The product of consultation must be conscientiously taken into account in finalising any decision proposals.

[1] R v London Borough of Brent, ex p Gunning [1985] LGR 168

Do I Need an Officer Decision Record?

by Louis Sebastian, Legal Services Team Manager and Deputy Monitoring Officer

I am often asked by officers carrying out Council business whether they need to complete an Officer Decision Record (ODR). This article looks at what an ODR is and when it is needed.

What is an Officer Decision Record?

ODRs come from the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 (Reg. 7) which deals with the recording of decisions made by local government officers on behalf of their council. The regulations state that decisions need to be recorded when:

  1. The Decision would have otherwise been taken by the relevant government body, to committee, sub-committee etc. but has been delegated to an officer; and
  2. The decision is to
    a. Grant a permission or licence;
    b. Affects the right of an individual; or
    c. Award a contract/incur an expenditure which matierally affects that relevant local government body’s financial position

The ODR must contain the following information:

i. the date of the decision;
ii. a description of the decision with reasons for taking it;
iii. details of alternative options, if any, considered and rejected; and
iv. if the decision is taken under a specific, express delegation by a committee, the names of any member of that committee (if any) who declared of interest in relation to the decision.

The key content of a notice is that it contains the reasons for the decision.

When do I need one?

Matters covered by 1. are relatively self-explanatory. In short this includes all decisions made by officers on behalf of the Council. This will cover pretty much everything so it is the limbs of 2. that will determine whether an ODR is needed.

Granting a Permission or a Licence
Where a permission or licence is granted by the Councils (for example Planning Permission, Taxi Licence or Premises Licence), a written record must be made. However, where the legislation under which the licence in granted requires a written record setting out the date and details of the decision, no additional ODR is needed.

Affecting the Right of an Individual
This varies depending on the situation but there is some guidance from case law. The leading case is the Newey case in which a decision that led to the erection of scaffolding and plywood in front of a neighbouring property which blocked light into the property for 60 weeks was held to affect the rights of an individual. We are therefore talking about decisions that have quite significant impacts on the rights of individuals. More common examples might be the decision to erect a new CCTV camera in a particular place or the decision to adopt a Neighbourhood Plan following a referendum.

Award a Contract/Incur Expenditure
There is no case law or guidance as to what amount or what type of spending constitutes a material effect on that council’s financial position and is it is up to each local authority to form its own – reasonable – view. North West Leicestershire District Council’s approach is to look at the financial authorisation thresholds in its Contract Procedure Rules. NWLDC has decided that contracts/expenditure which require approval from Team Manager level or above (i.e. £10,000 or more) constitutes a “material effect” and so require an ODR.

The flowchart below summarises the ODR thought process at NWLDC.