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CAB closures loom amid council cuts

4 February 2011

Legal advice centres will be forced to close as local authority funding is cut, the head of Citizens Advice has warned.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, estimates the national charity could lose up to 45 per cent of its funding because of government cuts to council budgets.

“Citizens Advice Bureaux across the country are facing a real threat to vital funds at a time when demand is increasing, and will continue to increase, as all the financial and social changes come into effect,” said Guy.

“Cuts to central government funds to support money advice services in many deprived areas, combined with cuts to council services and legal aid, mean Citizens Advice Bureaux are facing the very real prospect of having to reduce, or even close, vital advice services.

“This triple whammy of cuts could simply mean that hundreds of thousands of people may not be able to get much-needed help in their community next year.”

The stark forecast follows an announcement by Birmingham CAB that it expects to shut all five of its drop-in centres on 11 February as the city council opts out of renewing its £600,000 funding.

A petition calling for the continuation of funding for bureaux at Northfield, Tyseley, Handsworth, Kingstanding and Birmingham city centre was launched on 26 January, attracting 953 signatures so far.

Labour councillor Yvonne Davies, who is chief executive of Birmingham CAB, said the drop-in centres, run by 20 employed staff and 150 volunteers, helped 56,000 people last year in a city which gets an average of 120,000 CAB enquiries each year. Davies explained: “We have had to enter into redundancy consultations with staff as we cannot afford to hope something will turn up and find ourselves facing administration when things do not turn out positively.

“We are hoping that in our planned meeting on 14 Feburary with councillors we can find a way forward which will allow us to continue in some way. But as things stand we will be turning all ‘general advice’ clients away.

“In reality the doors will continue to be ‘open’, but not for business as usual.”

Birmingham solicitor Guy Barnett, who is chief executive of advice service Lawyers2you, pledged his firm would help to “pick up the pieces” of any CAB closures, adding: “These cuts to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau are just another case in a long line of cutbacks that will hit the most vulnerable hardest, denying them their fundamental right to access to justice.

“During such a period of austerity, with threats to legal aid and proposals included in the Jackson report, access to free legal advice is needed more than ever.

“This makes a mockery of the concept of a caring society and once again highlights how business in the private sector has to step in to fill the gap.”

But Birmingham City Council has played down the risk facing local CABx and claims recommissioning in the near future is a possibility. A council spokesperson said: “We’ve always made it clear that funding was not guaranteed beyond any single year. It was never our intention for agencies to become dependent upon this source of funding, or that it form their sole source of income.

“The council’s contracts with the current providers ceased in March 2010 and were rolled over until 31 December. From 31 December a funded notice period of 90 days was in place to provide some protection for the providers and CAB was paid a £150,000 notice payment to enable them to continue to offer services in the interim period.”

“We have a thriving third sector (which has at least 128 voluntary advice organisations) which will ensure there is no ‘gap’ in service while recomissioning happens.”

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Legal Aid Costs Clinical negligence