Legal services will cease to exist in rural Wales if current trends continue, a report on access to advice on social welfare law warns today. 

Publishing its Wales Manifesto for Advice, the Low Commission set up by the Legal Action Group says recruitment into training, legal practice and specialisation in the rural legal economy is ‘inadequate’ to provide for the longer term.

‘Currently, there is a population of rural solicitors ageing over time without new blood to replenish firms for the future,’ the commission says. ‘This decline is not due to the lack of demand for legal services; reasons range from regulatory disincentives to lack of management capacity to grow legal businesses.’

Law firms, it says, play an important role in relation to land management, livestock ownership, planning issues, property in family breakdowns and wills.

The commission proposes creating ‘enhanced’ capacity at the ‘second tier’, which would consist of frontline advisers, agencies and firms providing online and telephone access to expertise on Welsh legal matters ‘to help frontline groups to do their jobs’.

The manifesto is ‘directed towards’ the next Welsh government and assembly, with proposals for the period up to 2020.

The commission urges Welsh ministers to ‘negotiate’ with the Ministry of Justice for a share of the legal aid budget as a 'precondition' of any further devolution of executive or legislative competence in areas of criminal, civil and family law, or 'evolution' of distinct legal and judicial structures.

Spending priorities should be determined by the Welsh government and administered through Welsh agencies.

It also proposes that the Welsh government, working the National Advice Network, establish a single ‘clearing house’ process for all public funding programmes involving advice services.

The commission says: ‘Currently, there is significant potential for overlap and/or for delivery targets to become skewed by short-term priorities.

‘There are also concerns in a fragmented and highly pressured funding environment that only larger organisations with professional fundraising operations will thrive, rather than promoting a diverse partnership or providers each playing to their strengths, reaching into communities or helping those with particular needs.’

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