Southwark Council’s decision to cut legal advice services could be reversed after a call-in on Tuesday (May 12).  

On April 8 the deputy leader and cabinet member for culture, leisure, equalities and communities, Councillor Rebecca Lury, approved a new £3 million five-year contract with the Citizens Advice Bureau from May 2020 to March 2025, a cut of £130,000 (18 per cent) per year.  

But scrutiny committee members want the decision to be reassessed, arguing the need for legal advice services has increased in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.  

Lib Dem Councillor Jane Salmon, who requested the call-in on April 17, said the decision is now “out of date” in light of the pandemic and claims it is “in breach of the Equality Act”.  

“It is clear […] that in the current crisis caused by the coronavirus and Covid-19, the need for generalist legal advice services has increased and the nature of the advice services needed has become more acute. 

“The decision maker has sought to rely on an equality impact assessment carried out in December 2019. 

“As a result of the current crisis, this assessment is now entirely out of date and, without an up to date assessment, and corresponding proposals for mitigating acts, it cannot be said that the decision maker had due regard to their legal duties under the Equality Act 2010 when making this decision.  

“It is highly likely that the impact on people, with Equality Act protected characteristics, of the budget cut implemented by this decision has become significantly higher, to such an extent that the proposed mitigating actions are no longer sufficient, putting the council in breach of the Equality Act 2010 as detailed above.  

“Failing to take these changing circumstances and increased risk of acting unlawfully into account means that this decision has not been made in accordance with the principle of respect for the law,” Cllr Salmon said. 

The decision to reduce funding was agreed at the council assembly in February as part of the policy and resources strategy 2020-21. 

According to the report at the time: “A number of programmes elsewhere such as older people’s hub, disability hub and people with disabilities prioritised by local support team will mitigate some of the impacts.  

“There is potential for increased London wide funding for no recourse to public funds (NRPF) clients; funding dedicated to advice in different languages will be ring fenced within the generalist advice contract and referral to voluntary community support (VCS) funded organisations that support different groups will provide some support.” 

The call-in, also supported by Cllr Humaira Ali and Cllr Victor Chamberlain, will be debated at a virtual overview and scrutiny committee meeting at 5pm on Tuesday.  

There will be four voting options available to committee members; referring the decision back to the cabinet member for reconsideration, referring it back to council assembly, not referring it back but doing a scrutiny review of the issue, or not referring it back at all.