Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Free Legal Advice In Crisis Conference: Saturday 9th February 2013

2010/11 was the year in which the first round of budget cuts to local council services were announced, and when they hit, they hit hard. Manchester City Council removed £40M from its Adult Services which included closure of ‘Manchester Advice’, which provided independent and confidential advice in a range of areas covering debt problems, access to welfare, consumer issues and housing.

This appears to have been a mistake.

The government’s changes in legal aid, delayed for 6 months due to fierce opposition, are now due to come into effect in April 2013.

The high levels of concern regarding these changes center on 3 areas
  • the changes to welfare benefits (‘bedroom tax’, ‘universal credit’, ‘disability living allowance’ and more) which will affect a large number of Manchester residents
  • the funding cuts to voluntary sector advice centres in general, leading to fewer organisations able to help
  • the reduced funding of legal aid itself and the areas it will cover.

The issue of cuts to legal aid itself is hugely important. From April, legal aid advice
  • On all welfare matters will be abolished (e.g., no support for challenging unfair decisions)
  • On all Debt will be abolished (e.g., dealing with deal, court, knowing your rights)
  • On Housing will be restricted to immediate threats (repossession, serious health and safety) so areas of support like tenant/landlord disputes will no longer be available
  • On employment problems and rights will be mainly be abolished  (e.g. unfair dismissal)
  • On immigration and on family breakdown are to be restricted.

Between the closure of this city’s advice services AND the government’s proposed actions on legal aid, Manchester will be left with worryingly low levels of advice services. Manchester has extremely high levels of poverty and is presently struggling to deal with the problems is has as a consequence. 

Despite the brave endeavour by lawyers and Manchester University students to create a pro-bono advice scheme, more is needed to address what is expected to be a difficult time.

As part of the effort to address the issues above ‘Access 2 Advice’ have organised a ‘Free Legal Advice in Crisis’ – one day conference. This will be on Saturday the 9th of February 2013 with speakers from the Legal Action Network, Law Centres Federation and House of Lords.

The conference will cover happening from April, argue the case for free legal advice and the campaign to keep it.

The Manchester Green Party are proud to be one of the conference sponsors and would urge individual and organisations to support this event.

Deyika Nzeribe
Manchester Green Party Chair

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Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Alex Park protesters take to trees to stop “Felling Vandalism"

A plan by Manchester City Council to fell over 400 healthy trees and destroy over three acres of wildlife habitat are being condemned by Whalley Range residents. The fellings planned as part of a £4.6 M series of changes to the popular Alexandra Park in Moss Side have led to protests.

Chrissy Lowe of the Save Alexandra Parks Trees campaign said "This action by the council is completely unjustified and deliberately ignores the wishes of local residents. The Council has misled the public about both
the extent and reason for felling the trees and park users regard this as an act of municipal vandalism by a council hell-bent on riding roughshod over the local residents."

The intended changes to Alexandra Park also include controversial plans to fell many much loved mature trees to make way for tennis courts despite the fact that existing courts in the park are unused and there are already
9 tennis clubs within a mile.

"Yesterday felling began and we were able to slow things down by taking to the trees. We will continue our peaceful but firm resistance to Council actions today and we urge anyone who is able to come down and support us.  The Council also failed in its statutory duty to consult local residents. We are confident that this doesn't fulfil their legal requirements and could be grounds for judicial review." says Ian Brewer also of the campaign.

Manchester Green Party Chair Deyika Nzeribe commented “The campaign group has done everything right. They got over 2000 signatures asking for the plans to be reconsidered, they got local experts to show how the councils plans could be altered to preserve trees and they have been in dialogue with both the Council and funders the Lottery every step of the way. They have been completely ignored.

To draw a parallel, last week Manchester City Council made a great show of how unfair the cuts to local budgets were and how the government were ignoring them. The council are acting in exactly the same way as the government to this local issue.”

Anyone concerned about the Council's plans is urged to contact the Save Alexandra Parks Trees Group. A similar plan to fell 476 in Whalley Range was abandoned a year ago following a public outcry.

To get involved contact

Ian Brewer and Chrissy Lowe




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