Cash-strapped Edinburgh council spends £15m on external lawyers in just over three years
DESPITE having a team of in-house lawyers, cash-strapped Edinburgh Council has spent more than £15.2m on external solicitors, advocates and QCs in just over three years.
Figures released under Freedom of Information rules show that from 1 January, 2014, to 31 May, 2017, Edinburgh Council shelled out £15.265m to more than 60 firms of solicitors as well as three advocates and former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini QC — she carried out the Mortonhall Investigation into the baby ashes scandal.
Some of Scotland’s biggest firms such as Brodies and Pinsent Masons received fees from the council which is refusing to say how much each firm or individual received as that “would be likely to prejudice our commercial interests,” as the Council put it.
They told legal campaigner and blogger Peter Cherbi, who submitted the Freedom of Information request: “Revealing the rates that we have agreed to pay for legal advice and services would prejudice our ability to negotiate competitive rates from other legal firms.
“Without having the ability to negotiate rates from other legal firms (or advocates and QCs) the Council would then have to pay higher rates for the services required and thus a higher spend of public money would occur.”
It is believed the council spent most of the money on lawyers who helped it with the appalling property repairs scandal which ended with corrupt council officials going to prison but left many residents facing legal demands.
Cherbi told The National: “With the shocking trend of tens of millions of pounds being spent on lawyers and legal fees by Edinburgh Council and other local authorities, I am considering proposing a petition calling for a public register of businesses and bodies which receive public cash — showing the accurate amounts of public funding they receive and exactly how it is used.
“All other recipients of public cash are forced to disclose their last penny, even savings in the bank, but lawyers and other favoured businesses appear to be given contracts worth millions in public cash, and despite claims of accountability, there is none.”
Cherbi said the money should go towards vital public services “instead of giving flashy motors to lawyers and bragging rights over profits and bonuses.”
A City of Edinburgh Council spokesman said: “The Council benefits from the expertise of its in-house legal team and from that of external solicitors and advocates. External advisors are instructed for a variety of reasons, including where knowledge of a specialist area of law is sought, where more capacity is required or for specific large-scale projects.
“The Council has a framework of external legal firms, through which it benefits from reduced rates, and achieves best value by seeking competitive fixed priced quotes where appropriate.”