Don’t cut Southwark’s vital legal services when they are most needed

The Liberal Democrat Opposition Councillors have successfully called on the Council to stop cutting their funding provided to Citizen’s Advice Bureau and Southwark Law Centre as vital legal services needed in Southwark during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These services support our most vulnerable citizens in Southwark and were being asked to accept reduced budgets of over £100,000 this year - with the cumulative impact of reductions being a loss of funding of more than 30% since 2015/16. Representations were heard at the meeting from both organisations.

Accepting the call, the Labour cabinet member has agreed to have further discussions with both organisations regarding additional funding contributions particularly in light of the extra demands on their services as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.

The Lib Dem Vice Chair of Southwark Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Cllr Jane Salmon stated:

“Our most vulnerable citizens deserve all the support they can get at this most difficult time including access to proper legal advice. These Labour cuts to vital services need to be reconsidered and are ignoring the reality of today’s pandemic impact on our borough. I am glad to hear the cabinet member will now revisit this.”

The Council had previously claimed that the cuts were first identified and recommendations set out in the 2019/20 budget and this was just implementing them. However, it was brought to light during the meeting, that a full Equalities Impact Assessment on the community had not been completed till well after these cuts were budgeted. Further,this analysis failed to make any account of the pandemic now unfolding and so the Council should not be relying on it to make decisions like this today.

The assessment stated that “There is a likelihood that the cuts to the budget ...may have a disproportionate impact on clients who fall into one or more ... protected characteristics...and ... people experiencing disadvantage or discrimination”.

The Southwark Lib Dems aim to be a critical friend to the Council during this difficult time for everyone and is reflected in their recent letter to the Leader and Chief Executive of the Council with a list of 30 suggestions to help Southwark residents and businesses during the lockdown. Already, the Council has taken emergency decisions on some of these including extending the council tax reduction scheme for all low income households during the financial year 2020/21.

The letter thanks Council staff for all they have done and offers a set of practical and constructive recommendations going forward. The Lib Dems have also offered additional help to work cooperatively with the Council administration in a cross-party group focusing on the borough’s medium and long term challenges as lock down lifts.

See more details and full text of letter here