Stop law centre funding, Tory argues

Community law centres should not be funded by local authorities, says Hammersmith councillor

Community law centres should not be funded by councils because it is wasteful to fund organisations that sometimes launch legal cases against local authorities, according to a Conservative councillor.

Harry Phibbs, assistant to the cabinet member for environment at the Conservative-controlled Hammersmith & Fulham Council, included the recommendation in a list of "100 ways to cut council tax without cutting key services". The list originally appeared on Conservative Home, a Conservative-supporting website, and was reproduced in yesterday's Daily Mail.

Hammersmith & Fulham Council was embroiled in controversy in 2007 when it slashed the budget of a local law centre, the Hammersmith and Fulham Community Law Centre, by more than 60 per cent (Third Sector, 2 May 2007). The centre claimed that the cuts were politically motivated and that the council objected to being sued by the centre.

In that particular case, Phibbs told Third Sector, the funding had been cut to "release money for other things" and the overall voluntary sector budget had risen slightly. He said he would have eliminated the legal centre's funding entirely.

"It is fair enough for law centres to sue the council, but I question whether councils should be funding them," he said. "It is better to spend finite resources on services that help more people, rather than funding lawyers."

Andy Gregg, chief executive of the London Advice Services Alliance, a support organisation for law centres, said he was concerned at the suggestion.

"For the councilor to suggest that law centres should not be funded because ‘they bite the hand that feeds them’ is worrying indeed, as it goes against the basic principle of justice for all," he said.

Phibbs's list, which was written in a personal capacity, also recommends transferring a number of council services, such as children's literacy services, to the voluntary sector. It advises councillors to "remember that voluntary and church groups, as well as private firms, may offer a better means of providing a service than the council's own workforce".

His recommendations also include: putting all services out to tender; closing council-run youth centres and giving higher grants to "charitable and church groups" that run them, or forming "partnership arrangements with the private sector or groups such the Prince's Trust that provide facilities for the young"; focusing spending on the disabled and elderly on "practical help" provided by "voluntary groups such as Help the Aged" rather than funding "politicised advocacy lobby groups"; closing council-run playgroups and funding "the voluntary sector, church groups and independent groups of mothers" to run them instead.

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