LABOUR claims that the Government is planning to fund citizens' advice bureaux with National Lottery cash.
The allegation follows the donation of £1.5 million to 14 out of 721 bureaux. Many other CABx, as well as central body the National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux (NACAB), had applied for but failed to get funding.
Facing a cash squeeze, the CABx may refuse to take on the enhanced role outlined for them in Lord Mackay's Green Paper on legal aid.
Labour says that the Government's plan, involving replacing funds from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) with lottery cash, comes despite its promise that lottery money would not be used to replace existing Government funding.
Paul Boateng MP, Labour legal spokesman, said: "The need to use National Lottery money to finance advice centres symbolises a disturbing reduction in the ability of people to gain access to justice."
Boateng said that the plan, following Government cuts in the availability of legal aid, demonstrated "both the Tories' lack of commitment to justice and also their mismanagement of the justice system".
A NACAB spokeswoman said: "If there is any truth in that suggestion, then we would be extremely worried. Millions of people rely on the CABx network. There is no way that lottery money can ever replace secure long-term funding, especially in the context of the Government's aim for a greater role for us to play in the provision of legal services."
She warned: "It will be impossible for the CAB service to commit itself to this future role without a matching commitment from the Government to provide the resources needed."
Local authorities provide core funding for the 721 CABx in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Last year's figure of £40 million was a £2.7 million rise on the previous year.
But they also get DTI cash to fund "essential" central services provided by NACAB.
This has been frozen at £12 million since 1993-94, representing an actual cut in funds, forcing cuts in services, said NACAB.