Meet Helen Edwards- Candidate for Deputy Vice President of LLG

Publish date: 22/02/2019

Helen Edwards, Chief Legal Officer for Norfolk County Council sets out her experience and reasons for standing as Deputy Vice President of LLG.

In February 2019 I joined Norfolk County Council as Chief Legal Officer and Monitoring Officer, returning to the Council where I began my local government legal career more than 22 years earlier. I have a very broad range of local government experience, having previously worked as Head of Service and Monitoring Officer in London Boroughs, Districts and Unitary Councils, so I have first-hand knowledge of the issues facing local government lawyers. I spent the early part of my career as a litigator, and in recent years have focused on governance and strategic projects. I have managed a number of shared legal services, and have a thorough understanding of the opportunities and challenges that they present. I would like to think that there are few situations in the local government legal environment that I have not had some exposure to, but recognise that we always need to be ready for new challenges, particularly in the current environment. As local government lawyers, we will be expected to continue to find solutions for challenges faced by our authorities, and the support network of LLG will be vital.

I recently enhanced my local government experience with three years at the consultancy Kennedy Cater, working with a wide range of clients mainly from local authorities, and also housing associations, the NHS, and the private sector. My work involved projects designed to improve the efficiency of legal services whilst maintaining or improving quality. I worked with a large number of local authorities, expanding my knowledge of the sector beyond the authorities where I had been employed. I found that working across a broad range of sectors helped to improve my understanding of where local government fits into the wider picture.

I am an active and engaged member of LLG, and a regular attendee at the Governance Conference and Weekend Schools, as well as other LLG events including local branch meetings. I remained an Associate member of LLG, and continued to attend events during my time with Kennedy Cater. I have spoken at Weekend School break- out sessions on a number of occasions, on the themes of efficiency and quality of service provision in local government legal teams. I have spoken at various training sessions and seminars provided by Kennedy Cater, for clients and a wider audience, and contributed a series of articles to Local Government Lawyer. I would be proud to accept engagements as a speaker on behalf of LLG, promoting the vital role of local authority lawyers, and raising the profile of LLG and its aims and objectives. I consider that we have an ongoing need to raise the profile of local government lawyers in the same way that CIPFA promotes the role of local government finance professionals, and one of the ways in which to do this is to ensure that we are seen to have a voice influencing the sector nationally.

I am a passionate supporter of law in local government, and very keen to promote it as a positive career choice for lawyers. I would like to see LLG get more involved in Student Careers Fairs, to showcase the opportunities that a career in local government offers for lawyers. Throughout my career I have supported and mentored junior members of my teams both to qualify as lawyers, and to enhance their skills to support their promotion prospects, and this is something I will continue to do. I am particularly keen to support those who have the potential and inclination to become heads of legal and Monitoring Officers, to enable succession planning and ensure the future of local authority legal departments. I think it is vitally important that local government lawyers of all specialisms are encouraged to gain knowledge and experience of governance issues, and an understanding of the political environment in which they work, if we, as a profession, are to develop the next generation of leaders of law in local government. I would encourage greater opportunities for networking at local branch level, and persuade local authority leaders to see the benefit of allowing their lawyers to attend LLG events, and become involved in wider opportunities to ensure succession to the board, as too often I hear of local government lawyers who would love to become more involved, being prevented from doing so through constraints of budget and capacity. As a profession, we need to ensure that the value in enabling participation is clear and measurable.

In addition to the outward elements of the role of Deputy Vice President, it is important to play an active role as an LLG Board member. I am an effective participant in meetings; in addition to wide experience in local authority meetings as head of legal service, I spent three years at Kennedy Cater organising and chairing meetings of the London Boroughs' Legal Alliance, and the Housing Associations' Legal Alliance. This experience enhanced my skills in preparing for meetings, generating ideas for discussion, producing all papers and reports, preparing for the issues to be discussed, contributing in the meetings, and carrying out all follow up actions as agreed, within the timescales agreed. This required the ability to encourage debate amongst members, and diplomacy to manage the sometimes conflicting views and opinions of member authorities and associations, to ensure optimum outcomes for the groups. These skills will transfer well to a role on the LLG Board, and enable me to contribute effectively to the development and strategy for the future direction of LLG. I am fully aware of the requirements and responsibilities as a Board member, and have no doubt that my previous experiences over many years in local government will enable me to fulfil these appropriately.

If elected as Deputy Vice President, I have the capacity to immerse myself in the role, and undertake a workload on behalf of LLG to help it to achieve its aims, and would be proud to represent and promote the profile of lawyers in local government on the national stage.

Helen Edwards