Redundancy looms for law centre seven after budget cut

BRENT Community Law Centre and the borough's two Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB) are on the verge of closing, leaving seven lawyers facing redundancy.

The centre claims the £300,000 cuts in advice service grants by Brent Council will leave the London borough with no independent advice service from April.

It is vowing to fight the closure – if necessary, through legal action.

The centre has seven lawyers out of a total staff of nine, all of whom face redundancy. Centre lawyer, Paul im Thurn, says the council's plan to keep the centre going on £100,000 a year – £183,000 less than its current grant – is simply unworkable.

“We are glad the council clearly hopes we can find a way to survive, but on that sort of budget closure is simply unavoidable,” he says.

Brent is one of five London boroughs “left on its knees”, by central government budget cuts according to im Thurn.

He points out that this is despite the Government's ostensible commitment to improving areas of social exclusion.

The council's “swingeing cuts” to the advice service are “completely out of proportion, even with the problems it faces”, he says.

Im Thurn goes on to dismiss the council's scheme to replace the area's advice agencies with a telephone centre in council offices as “completely half-baked”.

He says it could constitute a breach of the council's statutory duty under, for example, the Housing Act, which requires the provision of “advice and assistance” in specified areas.

However, he hopes further negotiation would make legal action unnecessary.

Both the Law Centres Federation and Legal Action Group call for a statutory duty to be placed on local authorities to provide funding for advice services.

The centre plans to meet senior council members this week to try to thrash out a survival plan.

Council spokesman Mich-ael Reed says the cuts had to be made but, if possible, it wants to keep the centre open.

He adds that the council hopes to use existing CAB advisers at its planned advice call centre.