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Legal Aid

Volume 523: debated on Thursday 17 February 2011

18. What assessment he has made of the potential effects on requirements for support from his Department by citizens advice bureaux of planned reductions in the provision of legal aid. (41359)

My Department does not provide core funding for individual citizens advice bureaux; it provides it only for the national umbrella bodies of which they are all members. However, we are aware of the challenges facing bureaux from funding cuts at both the national and local level, including from the proposals on legal aid funding, and we are working closely with colleagues in the Ministry of Justice and other Departments across government that have an interest in the citizens advice service.

As the Minister will be aware, citizens advice bureaux are suffering pressures not just from cuts to the legal aid budget but across Departments that are cutting services. How many citizens advice bureaux does he think will be cut as a result of the spending review?

As I said in my initial response, funding for local citizens advice bureaux is up to local authorities. The Department for Communities and Local Government has made it clear that the voluntary sector, including citizens advice bureaux, should not be hit disproportionately. I hope the hon. Lady will welcome the fact that the national bodies Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland have had their funding for next year maintained at current levels. I hope she will also welcome the announcement this weekend by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that we will supply £27 million of funding for face-to-face debt advice next year.

The Secretary of State will be well aware of the devastating impact that the cuts to legal aid will have on citizens advice bureaux across the country, leaving many people without the advice they desperately need. As the Cabinet Minister responsible for the citizens advice service, what action has he taken to ensure a coherent strategy across government to safeguard the full range of funding that the service receives from different Government Departments? At the moment, he seems to be abandoning the service, like the hireling shepherd leading out the injured lamb to be torn apart limb by limb by its predators.

I do not think I have been promoted. However, I can reassure the hon. Lady that we are taking a cross-Government approach to the funding of citizens advice bureaux. That is why the Department has been so strong in making sure that national funding for the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, which supplies technology and IT for all local bureaux, has been maintained, and I would have thought that she welcomed the extra money—£27 million—announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State at the weekend, for which she and others have been calling.