East Cambs Council axes £47,000 Citizens Advice Bureau with the promise they can do it bigger and better

PUBLISHED: 14:15 21 January 2020 | UPDATED: 14:15 21 January 2020

Ely branch of Citizens Advice Rural Cambridgeshire (CARC) is pictured alongside Michael Mealing, chair of CARC. Picture: ARCHANT

Ely branch of Citizens Advice Rural Cambridgeshire (CARC) is pictured alongside Michael Mealing, chair of CARC. Picture: ARCHANT

Archant

Councillors in East Cambridgeshire voted to axe its funding to the Citizens' Advice Bureau (CAB).

The district council says the £47,000 originally proposed would be used as part of proposals to enlarge and deliver the same service itself.

"From April 2020, residents will have access to a full and extended range of advice services every weekday." said a council spokesman.

"We recently undertook a review to establish whether continuing a funding grant to Citizens Advice Rural Cambridgeshire (CARC) was meeting its aims to deliver an "excellent service that meets the needs of an evolving community.

"The review identified that many services were already provided by the council."

At the operational services committee on Monday it was decided to withdraw the funding from Citizens Advice "and instead directly deliver the service.

"This will result in the creation of four adviser jobs within ECDC's housing team which has been made possible via the council's ability to secure £627,000 funding from central government as well as the saving of £47,000 from the grant".

Committee chairman Cllr David Ambrose Smith said: "The council already has a proven track record for the delivery of prevention and support services to those in need across the district.

"By taking the decision to withdraw funding, which is decided on an annual basis, direct delivery of those services will enable the council to act as a one-stop-shop for residents.

"The council's decision to directly deliver these services will provide residents with greater access to support and advice face-to-face."

He said residents will be able to get advice in person during the council's opening hours from 8.45am-5pm Monday to Thursday and 8.45-4.30pm on Fridays - an increase from the current provision by CARC of 9.15am-12pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Cllr Ambrose Smith added: "Our work with the youth strategy, vulnerable community strategy, Think Communities and community hubs places the council in a strong position to plan, prevent and react to the evolving needs of the East Cambridgeshire community."

An independent charity that could lose £47,000 of funding says it would lead to "catastrophic consequences" with fears of a branch closure.

Citizens Advice Rural Cambridgeshire (CARC) had "no idea" that the council was proposing to cut their funding until the Ely Standard's article was published on Friday (January 10).

It would mean that the yearly grant from ECDC would run out at the end of March 2020.

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The money is used to support the provision of free, confidential, impartial and independent advice.

Michael Mealing, chair of CARC, said: "We have had a good relationship with the district council for a number of years.

"This news came completely out the blue to us - we had no idea.

"We are a small independent charity and the local authority is our biggest funder.

"This could affect us hugely, so much so that we are thinking could an office in Ely remain viable?

"This funding also makes a contribution to our overheads as we have five offices in rural Cambridgeshire."

Its expertise extends to dealing with benefits, money advice, consumer advice, employment advice and relationship advice.

But the district council say that around 80 per cent of support "overlap and duplicate" with their own services.

Mr Mealing said: "There are some services that are similar to what the council offer; but our people are trained to a national standard to help in specific areas.

"We are independent too and that works better for some people as they may have a link with the council for their issue they need help on.

"We are in great demand as lots of people are struggling more and more with debt issues."

CARC chief executive Nick Blencowe, said the group was seeking an "urgent meeting" with the council.

Lewis Bage, ECDC's communities and partnerships manager, said in a report to the committee that "the decision to award a grant is undertaken on an annual basis".

Tell us what you think: Email your views to the Editor john.elworthy@archant.co.uk

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