A Government agency which provides legal advice to millions of people is to cut 600 jobs and close a number of offices including one in Birmingham.

The GMB union said it was told that the Legal Services Commission planned to reduce its workforce from 1,700 to 1,100 over the next three years.

The job losses will be phased as offices close in Brighton, Cardiff, Cambridge, Reading, Leeds, Chester and Birmingham, according to the union.

The grim news was given to union officials at a meeting yesterday morning.

The Commission is a Government agency providing information, advice and legal representation to two million people a year in England and Wales. The service helps people with civil legal problems such as family breakdown, death and housing.

Rehana Azam, an official of the GMB, said: “This is very disappointing news for the Legal Services Commission staff and for people seeking legal aid.

“We will fight a vigorous campaign to minimise the job losses and will seek a meeting with Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, to discuss these proposed job losses.

“It is essential to ensure that legal aid services to the public are maintained in these times of recession and it is particularly important there are no cutbacks in the services to people facing debts and housing problems.”

The commission confirmed it planned to close a number of its sites as part of the changes. No offices will close until at least 2009 at the earliest. The commission said in a statement “These changes are part of the transformation of legal aid in England and Wales which is designed to deliver improved services to clients. More efficient processes and increased use of electronic working will enable us to provide these services with fewer staff and to deliver better value for money for the taxpayer.”

Meanwhile, DIY chain Homebase said it was reviewing its central resource requirements to bring its cost base in line with trading conditions, raising fears of job cuts for the firm’s 20,000 UK staff.

Homebase said the “challenging” conditions facing the DIY market and the retail sector meant the firm had to review costs. All potentially affected workers will be notified this week and a consultation period will start later in the month. A statement said: “We will also be holding formal individual consultation meetings with each colleague affected. Homebase will make every effort to reduce the impact of this programme on our colleagues and the group consultation process has been designed to make sure that we minimise the number of redundancies necessary.”

Yesterday unions reacted to news that Jaguar Land Rover was extending its voluntary redundancy scheme so that up to 600 workers could leave. Unite national officer Roger Maddison said: “This is very disappointing but we understand the difficult economic conditions that Jaguar Land Rover are having to operate in. We will be keeping a close eye on developments at the business, as well as in the car industry in general.”

Steve Radley, chief economist at the Engineering Employers Federation, said: “Each day that passes provides more evidence that manufacturers are being hammered hard by the recession. With significant increases in short-time working and redundancies becoming more common, we urgently need a full point cut in interest rates to begin with. This must be followed by a bold package of timely and targeted measures from government to prevent the downturn from gathering pace.”