Fears over future of law centre

The future of a legal advice centre in Derby is unclear after the city council delayed plans to extend its contract.

The Community Legal Advice Centre is funded by the council and the Legal Services Commission.

It gives people free advice on housing, benefits, immigration and other issues, but its contract to provide those services runs out in March 2011.

Local groups are worried the delay puts the future of the advice centre in doubt.

Thousands helped

Bish Wojcik, who helped found the centre's predecessor, the Law Centre, said the delay was unwise.

"I think it's a very sad day", he said.

"Any delay in funding an organisation the size of this one is going to have a detrimental effect."

Jane Sharratt from Smith Partnership, a firm of solicitors which helps provide advice at the centre, said it was very popular.

The service has helped more than 22,000 people since opening in 2008.

'Exceeded expectations'

But the city council said the delay does not necessarily mean the end of the centre.

Conservative council leader Harvey Jennings said the renewal did not need to be done yet and was going to be extended early.

"This is not the death knell for the service", Councillor Jennings told a council meeting.

But he added the service could be provided by charities in the future.

Opposition councillors have described the delay as "irresponsible".

Labour group leader Paul Bayliss said the service had "always exceeded expectations and achieves significant savings for the council."

It is not known when the council will decide the centre's fate.

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