Glasgow City Council plans ‘threaten safety net of free advice and legal representation’
A council’s decision to close a fund supporting the provision of free advice in relation to housing, financial inclusion and social welfare law in Glasgow has been condemned by a leading lawyer.
Glasgow City Council’s integrated grant fund (IGF), which contributes funding to 20% of the city’s third sector, will close at the end of March next year, forcing the organisations that currently benefit from it to re-apply to a new fund in competition with the rest of the third sector – which includes any kind of not for profit group, club or organisation.
Seventeen of the recipient organisations form the Glasgow Advice and Information Network (GAIN). They include local community law centres, money advice agencies and Citizens Advice Bureaux.
GAIN members, along with other IGF recipients, have been told to prepare exit strategies in the event they are not selected for funding under the 2020 arrangements.
Mike Dailly, principal solicitor at Govan Law Centre, a member of the GAIN network, said that he hopes the council will not cut the “powerful safety net of free advice and legal representation for the people of Glasgow”.
Mr Dailly told Scottish Legal News: “Govan Law Centre’s concern has been that throughout this process there has been no recognition of the role that Glasgow’s law centres and advice agencies play in preventing homelessness, poverty, destitution, inequality and discrimination.
“Indeed, local authorities are required by law to provide a wide range of independent advice and representation services free of charge.
“Over the years Glasgow has built up an enviable reputation for having the best free advice network in Scotland, and indeed one of the best in the UK, through strategic investment in community law centres and other advice agencies.”
Last year the centre prevented 1,500 households from being made homeless in the city, supported 2,000 people with mental health problems, and handled more than 6,000 cases.
Glasgow has the highest level of deprivation of any local authority area in Scotland and the lowest average life expectancy in Scotland.
“We provide a free-at-the-point of delivery service and for every £1 of Glasgow City Council funding we leverage in £5.17 from other funders which is then reinvested in our local services,” Mr Dailly said.
In 2018-19 the GAIN advice organisations assisted 21,533 clients with over 78,418 cases involving money advice, benefits, financial capability, housing, employment and legal advice.
Mr Dailly said: “It is of deep regret that there has been no indication from Glasgow City Council that our front line and emergency services are valued or even acknowledged in this process.
“Over the last four years, the GAIN network has generated almost £104 million for Glasgow citizens in a time of unprecedented austerity.
“Without doubt, GAIN network organisations save Glasgow City Council and the taxpayer significant sums of public money as well as the immeasurable cost of preventing human misery and mental illness.”
Councillor Jennifer Layden, Glasgow City Council convenor for community empowerment, equalities and human rights, said: “For years Glasgow has needed an equitable, accountable and transparent funding programme which works better for all of the third sector and that provides multi-year funding and focus on outcomes. The new fund will do this.”
She added that “too many organisations who could deliver great work for the city are shut out of the funding process” and that the new fund “will still be open for organisations like Govan Law Centre to apply to”.