THIS Thursday, Glasgow City Council (GCC) will vote to cut over £2m each year from its funding to Glasgow’s community law centres, citizen advice bureaux (CABx) and local money advice agencies.

That’s a 60 per cent cut across the board and £5m removed from

Glasgow’s free advice sector over the next two and half years.

Such a savage axe wielding may force the closure of Castlemilk Law Centre – the oldest law centre in Scotland – and five CABx in Glasgow’s East End and South East.

Other agencies like Govan Law Centre would see one third of

council support disappear from next month.

Why would any local authority reduce the capacity of its free advice sector during the worst pandemic in our lifetime? Why would you hollow out the hull of your lifeboats in a time of crisis? Cut lifelines for the most vulnerable people in our communities? Make no mistake we are sailing into a brutal economic and social storm.

When the furlough and self-employment schemes wind-up in October, we know we’re looking at tens of thousands of job losses in Glasgow alone. Who will provide Glaswegians with employment advice if they aren’t in a trade union? Represent them at the employment tribunal if they are unfairly dismissed or short changed by their employer?

With mortgage and loan payment holidays coming to an end, along with forbearance, who will provide free debt and money advice for Glaswegians? Prevent the repossession of their homes? Ensure that every person who loses their income can access all of the social security benefits they are entitled to by navigating the maze the state puts in their path?

Who will provide the legal support to women and children fleeing domestic violence and abuse? Who will undertake urgent guardianship applications for the most vulnerable members of our communities? Prevent someone from becoming destitute in our city? Or ensure that essential repairs or disability adaptations are carried out to a tenant’s home.

Make no mistake once you lose a law centre or an advice agency in your community you won’t see them again. These are your community assets. These are your local advice agencies. Once felled they won’t grow back.

I have seldom seen a proposal that is so reckless and feckless as wiping out your local advice sector during a pandemic and recession; so lacking in any strategic thinking, logic or compassion for the wellbeing of Glasgow’s citizens.

During lockdown, I’ve also worked as a board member of the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) to safeguard the capacity of debt advice in England. We secured an additional £38m from the Treasury with plans to recruit an additional 1,000 or so debt advisors in England. MaPS predicts a 60 per cent demand in debt advice; with demand not peaking until the end of 2021.

This work resulted in £5.9m in consequential funding for debt advice in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Over the weekend the Scottish Government announced this money is going to pay for online services. Who will provide face-to-face advice in Glasgow for those who are digitally excluded, mentally ill, of no fixed abode or with complex and multiple needs?

We should be increasing the capacity of our free advice sector in Glasgow because we know a massive increase in demand for help and representation is literally around the corner. Slashing the capacity of Glasgow’s advice sector in 2020 would be an act of vandalism that would shame the barbarian race of Vandals themselves.

I would implore members of GCC’s City Administration Committee to retain the existing level of advice sector funding for this financial year (under the Integrated Grants Fund). The proposals councillors are being asked to vote through on Thursday are hopelessly out of date and are pre-Covid-19 in terms of planning.

Use that time to plan for how Glasgow will be able to meet the massive increase in demand for free advice and representation services later this year. If common sense, morality or prudence does not prevail then consider the duties on GCC in terms of the 2010 Equality Act.

How can the council discharge its public sector equality duty to advance opportunity or reduce the inequalities of its citizens because of social-economic disadvantage? Wiping out over half of your advice and support for Glasgow’s poorest and most vulnerable during a pandemic is a decision that no reasonable council could ever implement.

There are two priorities for Glasgow’s Communities Fund. First: improve communities by “addressing the impact of barriers such as deprivation, disadvantage, exclusion, inequality and isolation”. Second: to empower local communities to strengthen resilience. These priorities can never be achieved without a strong and vibrant Glasgow advice sector.