Legal Fees Shoot Up for Councils as More Children Are Taken into Care; COMPENSATION CULTURE ALSO CAUSE OF RISING COST

Article excerpt

Byline: PETER LAW

COMPENSATION culture and the fallout from the Baby P scandal have led to a rise of millions of pounds in the amount councils in Wales pay legal firms, figures seen by the Western Mail reveal.

A boom in the number of children taken into the care of social services since the Baby P case and an increase in the number of compensation cases dealt with by Welsh councils have been cited among the reasons for the pounds 14.6m bill.

The multi-million pound payments were last night described as a "huge burden" on taxpayers by anti-tax campaigners, while a Welsh MP described the figures as "frightening".

The Western Mail asked all 22 councils in Wales to reveal how much each had spent on external legal advice and representation over the past three years.

Of the 17 councils that responded, only Anglesey and Denbighshire recorded a decrease in its legal bills between 2007/08 and 2009/10.

Across Wales, payments totalled pounds 3.6m in 2007/08, pounds 4.8m in 2008/09 and pounds 6.2m in 2009/10, with some authorities seeing their bills double, triple or even increase ten-fold.

Swansea council's bill increased 146% from pounds 372,150 three years ago to pounds 917,053 last year. A council spokesman said this was largely due to more legal cases associated with child protection.

"Since the Baby P case Swansea, like other local authorities across England and Wales, has seen a big rise in the number of children looked after by social services," a Swansea council spokesman said.

"However, the joint child care legal team we share with Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend is helping all three local authorities reduce costs against the backdrop of rising demand for the service."

Conwy's payments shot up from pounds 38,499 to pounds 125,806 and the council's acting head of legal services, Delyth Jones, said: "The vast majority of our external spend is in respect of child care proceedings, which have increased as a result of the Baby P case."

Merthyr and Gwynedd councils said the increase in their legal bills included "substantial" costs due to the transfer of their former housing stock, while Monmouthshire said it had sought legal advice on the regeneration of Abergavenny town centre. …