October 31 2014 Latest news:
Alex Hurrell, Reporter
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Question marks surround the recent merger of three Citizens Advice Bureaux to form a Norfolk CAB.
Charity chiefs have failed to answer EDP queries about the changes, despite repeated requests for information over more than four weeks.
The North Norfolk, Yare Valley and Norwich and West Norfolk CABs officially merged on November 29 last year.
Plans for the Diss and Thetford bureau to join them had not gone ahead “at this stage” because of insufficient support from its membership, according to a letter from the trustee board of Norfolk CAB sent out to “key stakeholders”.
The EDP emailed questions to the CAB in Norfolk on December 13 last year asking about the reasons for the merger, the impact on staffing and clients, and trends in both workload and funding.
After several further unsuccessful contact attempts, the EDP received a brief, two-sentence, statement on January 11, issued by a spokesman via the CAB’s London press office.
It said: “I can confirm that Citizens Advice has received a complaint concerning the merger of North Norfolk Citizens Advice Bureau into a county-wide CAB service. We are currently investigating the complaint and will comment on the outcome once the investigation has been completed.”
An anonymous December 30 email to the EDP expressed concern about the merger and North Walsham Town Council’s recent increased contribution, of £4,000, to the charity.
“I know lots of people who really value their local bureau. But, if it is true, it [the merger] seems to have been kept very quiet, and I wonder what local town and district councillors make of this and make of their £4,000 going to support Norwich?” said the emailer, who signed themselves “Lord Elpus.”
The charity, which offers free, confidential advice to the public on matters including debt, benefits, housing and employment problems, relies on grants from central and local government, and donations.
It has had to adjust to the economic downturn which has seen both a rise in inquiries and a drop in its funding.
A move away from grants towards contracts for services has also put the CAB in direct competition with the private sector.
The letter to stakeholders from the trustee board said that the new Norfolk CAB had been formed to ensure a high quality, impartial service could continue to be offered across the county.
It would deploy almost 350 staff and volunteers and would continue to operate centres in Norwich, Kings Lynn, Fakenham, Yarmouth, Wymondham, North Walsham and Attleborough.
The letter added: “We will focus on the biggest issues we deal with - particularly debt and money, and have ambitions to establish preventative services across the county.”