Corporate Service Cabinet Member – Minute – 18 March 2011

444 (71) REVIEW OF THE PERFORMANCE OF THE LOCAL LAND CHARGES SERVICE AND LEGAL SERVICES CHARGING POLICY – The Service Director Legal and Democratic submitted a report which reviewed the performance of the Local Land Charges Service and sought approval to amend charges made by Local Land Charges and Legal Services. It was requested that an urgent decision be taken to enable sufficient notice to be given prior to implementation at the start of the new financial year.

The Service Director Legal and Democratic addressed the performance of the Local Land Charges. It was explained that during the financial year (up to 28 February 2011) 1348 Official ‘in house’ Searches (this figure also included LLC1 searches) had been received. The total for the whole of the financial year 2009/10 was 1213. Although another month had to be accounted for it could be seen that the figures represented an increase when compared to the previous year. For both years the figures continued to be well below the levels recorded in the years prior to the downturn in the property market e.g. 2006/7 4169 and this continued to have an effect on the budget situation.

As in past years, the annual survey of local solicitors was undertaken in January, with 30 questionnaires being sent out and 12 responses being received. The vast majority of responses rated the service provided as either good or excellent.

During the present financial year (up to 28 February 2011) the Service had ensured that 100 per cent of searches had met the council’s performance indicator of an eight working day turn around matching last year’s compliance rate. The Service could send and receive requests for information electronically to and from relevant service areas and in addition searches could be received and transmitted electronically.

Allied to this, the huge task of transferring the paper based land charges registers into electronic format was well underway, with the records relating to Scunthorpe, Brigg, Winterton and several villages having been inputted. The downturn in search volume had freed staff up to attend to this exercise, which would otherwise have required support to be brought in to progress.

It was noted that in adopting these charges, the council’s charges would still be competitive when compared to the current fees charged by its near neighbours for a full search.

With regards to the Legal Services Discretionary Fees the Cabinet Member was advised that as part of Legal Services membership of the CIPFA benchmarking club and in light of regular benchmarking discussions with neighbouring authorities, a review of the charging structure of Legal Services’ fees had been undertaken. It was proposed that a discrete charging structure for the specialist commercial/procurement work undertaken by the commercial/procurement arm of the Service be developed and applied. This would settle the charge out rates for the officers engaged in specialist major procurement/capital projects, YHGFL and work undertaken for North East Lincolnshire Council under the Pathfinder Service.

It was concluded that liaison between the Council, the Local Government Association, the Institute of Local Land Charges Officers and neighbouring authorities would continue to monitor and assess the implications of any challenges to the current local land charges regime brought by private search providers.

Resolved – (a) That the local land charge fee structure as set out in paragraph 3.2 of the report be implemented with effect from 1 April 2011 and kept under review, (b) that the increase to the legal fees as proposed in the Appendix to the report be approved and adopted with effect from 1 April 2011, and (c) that the action in paragraph 5.3 of the report be completed and implemented.