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Wirral Council officers ordered to cut costs of hiring lawyers
A REVIEW is underway into the high costs Wirral Council has racked-up seeking legal advice.
A Freedom of Information request revealed that in the last financial year, more than £160,000 has been spent by the authority “out-sourcing” legal issues.
The lawyers’ bill will hardly help Wirral’s current financial predicament - it was revealed last week the target figure for cost-cutting has rocketed from £38m to a staggering £77m.
The FoI request by a Wirral resident shows the highest sum was paid to Weightmans solicitors, which charged £80,931 for its services.
Second highest was Eversheds with £68,956. A further £11,500 was split between three other law firms.
Council leader Cllr Phil Davies has instructed chief officers to find ways to cut the bill.
Councillor Davies said: “Last year was very unusual with the suspension of three statutory officers and the director of technical services.
“We spent a lot more on external specialist advice than we would normally do.
"But we have to seek this advice to ensure we are legally watertight.
“However, I have asked our chief executive Graham Burgess to look into these issues and find ways of reducing the legal bill.”
The council also spent around £28,000 - excluding legal fees - hiring independent consultant Richard Penn to conduct a review into a critical Audit Commission investigation.
Under the Public Interest Disclosure Act, the commission probed the manner in which an out-sourced council contract for highways maintenance with the Colas group had been handled.
Technical services director David Green and three other chief officers were suspended from work while the inquiry was carried out.
Mr Penn’s final report was presented to the council on Christmas Eve and found Mr Green had no case to answer; he was invited to return to work in early January.
Two of the other suspended officers left the council's employment: finance chief Ian Coleman took early retirement while legal head Bill Norman opted for voluntary redundancy. A council inquiry had found Mr Norman also had no case to answer. The third officer remains suspended.
• The council’s cost-cutting rocketed after it was discovered a series of “bad budgets” has been allowed to go through adding £39m to the target figure for the next financial year.