Councillors silent as Greenwich law centre faces closure


I’m a bit late with this, but Greenwich Community Law Centre users face one last chance to keep their service going, when the decision to close it gets reconsidered by Greenwich Council’s cabinet next Tuesday.

A decision to close it, and fund services based in Woolwich and Plumstead instead, was made by the cabinet last month, leaving the whole western side of the borough facing long journeys to get legal advice.

Conservative councillors Spencer Drury and Nigel Fletcher opted to “call in” the decision – which would usually mean it would go to a panel of three councillors (two Labour, one Conservative) with the power to quiz cabinet members and officers about their decision.

However, the council has decided to skip this process – so the “call in” will actually be decided by the cabinet which made the decision to stop funding the centre in the first place.

The law centre’s supporters aren’t finding much backing from their local councillors – with Peninsula representative Mary Mills unable to attend the meeting, their requests to her Labour colleagues Dick Quibell and Miranda Williams for support have fallen on deaf ears, with neither responding to their requests.

(I’ve had no response from either councillor to e-mails sent yesterday afternoon on why they’re not backing users of a facility right in the heart of their ward – they’re obviously welcome to comment below if they want.)

The centre’s been under threat for some years, long before the current government cuts. Supporters say over 700 cases will be left in limbo if the closure goes ahead on 11 November, with other agencies too busy to cope with new clients.

Campaigners have set up a Facebook page and Twitter feed, as well as an online petition and a paper one in the centre itself.

They also want supporters to attend the meeting itself, on Tuesday at 7pm at Woolwich Town Hall.

2:20pm update: Peninsula ward councillor Dick Quibell has been in touch. He says a constituent wrote to him earlier this week about this issue, and he sent this response on behalf of him and Miranda Williams, which I publish in full:

“Thanks for your note. We should explain that the loss of grant to Greenwich Community Law Centre (GCLC) was due to the Council conducting a competitive process for the services that the centre offers – and GCLC submitted inferior proposals for doing the work, so it is to be provided by other organisations.

“We are very conscious of the need to provide services of this kind, and extremely keen that this work is done by organisations in the “3rd sector” (rather than commercial law firms), and have spent a lot of time deciding which are the best ones to do it. Whatever decision had been made over the provider of the two services that GCLC bid for, a significant number of clients would have been faced with the journey across the borough. In practice we weren’t going to fund all the organisations which had previously received money.

“Since the bids from the successful organisations were significantly better than GCLC’s, we are quite confident that the service to their clients will improve as a result of this decision, and the successful bidders will develop into centres of real expertise in the field – we believe that the impact of poverty, debt and other legal difficulties will be mitigated better in the future than it has before.

“Obviously this has been difficult. For over two years we have struggled to get the 3rd sector organisations to sharpen up their service, and to work collaboratively together. It is a sad fact that GCLC really never got itself into the shape required to face these challenges – despite patience and a lot of public money.”

4 comments

  1. I do not agree with this. GCLC is the best advice agency within the borough and often takes clients sent by Plumstead and those who cannot even get in the door at the CAB and is the only agency that deals with six areas of advice. Now the people of east and west Greenwich, Charlton and Westcombe wards will need to travel miles to Plumstead for advice. it is sad that the local ward councillor has not realised this and neither has he made the effort to save a valuable service for his area. Indeed, some time ago, a council report stated that the Greenwich Law Centre gave the best value for money of any advice agency within the borough and to say that we failed to meet the challenges is utter nonesense.

  2. This is the council’s line, and it’s sad to hear a Labour Council and a local Labour Councillor stating this. The Law Centre undertakes a huge amount of valuable casework. Is Councillor Quibell aware of just how much money has been raised by Employment & Welfare Rights work at GCLC? Of how many people’s immigration issues have been successfully resolved or of how many people have been saved from homelessness? If not, he should endeavour to find out immediately. I could also recommend that he asks his local constituents for their opinions of the work GCLC does.

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