|Staff protest in 2011|
Law Centres have been affected by cuts in funding via local authorities and through the Legal Aid Reform Act. Neighbouring Barnet lost its Law Centre a while ago and Lambeth was forced to close last year.
Brent Law Centre had to stop direct applications for help due to funding cuts and only accept referrals via Brent Citizens Advice Bureau which itself was overloaded with cases LINK. The only alternative was the mainly on-line BAM (Brent Advice Matters).
Whatever the government says austerity is far from over and it is shameful that an organisation that helped the victims of austerity is now itself a victim. Brent Law Centre joins Brent Disability Concern that had to close its office when the NHS demanded a market rent LINK and the Council refused help, and Brent Energy Solutions LINK which limped along for a while after Brent Council cut its grant but eventually had to close.
This morning Cllr Ketan Sheth tweeted:
Very disappointed that the Brent Community Law Centre has closed. It was much used and appreciated lifeline for many, many residents over the past decades and is truly sad news...
While Cllr Roxanne Mashari responded:
In response Brent Cabinet member Cllr Tom Miller told his colleagues that he had outlined the issues affecting the Law Centre in the Labour Group and at Willesden Green ward meetings and said he was willing to answer their questions on the way forward.I can't believe this was allowed to happen.
The Council has bought the building as part of a plan aimed at rescuing the organisation and worked out in partnership with it. Brent Community Law Centre had become financially unviable for several reasons which I won't go into here.He told Wembley Matters:
My colleagues are totally correct that this is an important institution worthy of protection. There are financial issues considerably bigger than just the relationship with Brent. I think there are short and long term solutions too, but right now it's crisis support.Veteran campaigner Sarah Cox reacted on Facebook:
I was dismayed the other day to see both Brent Law Centre and the nearby Citizens Advice Bureau in Willesden High Rd closed. Never has it been so necessary for people to have access to the help and advice these two organisations provided. Austerity, the new racist immigration laws, the punitive and unjust Universal Credit system all put people into terrible situations where they desperately need help.UPDATE:
According to the Kilburn Times today (March 11th) LINK the Law Centre building was sold to Brent Council in January:
A council spokesperson told the Kilburn Times that they could not comment on the building purchase, adding: 'We have been working with BCLC to identify alternative ways for it to deliver services to Brent residents and will continue to support them in whatever way we can.'
Nimrod Ben-Cnaan, head of policy at the Law Centres Network, said: 'With these financial challenges and other considerations in mind, the law centre's trustees have decided that closing the service at this time was the best way forward, when it is still solvent and an orderly closure could be maintained to protect clients.'The Brent Council statements raises more questions that it answers and given Ketan Sheth's concern I hope that the Council's decisions on this are called in for public scrutiny.
It would be a scandal if the Law Centre building, which has served Brent residents needing local support and advice for nearly 50 years ends up as a block of unaffordable flats and legal advice continuing as only a skeleton service from premises as yet unknown.