Nearly all former Citizens Advice North Norfolk volunteers call on former trustees to resign


- Credit: Archant

Nearly all the volunteers with the former north Norfolk Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) are calling for the resignations of two chiefs.

The move follows widespread discontent with the way in which Citizens Advice North Norfolk (CANN) was merged to form part of Norfolk CAB on November 30 last year.

A group of 40 volunteers - 97.6pc of the total - have signed a petition calling for the resignations of former CANN trustees John Sharples and Mike Gates.

Both are now trustees of Norfolk CAB and Mr Sharples is its chairman.

The disgruntled volunteers - who are trained by the charity to give free, confidential help to the public on problems including debt, employment and housing - claim the merger process was flawed. And they object to the way it was conducted, saying communication and consultation had been poor throughout.

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They want the two trustees to step down, before reconciliation talks are held, to be replaced with candidates who 'command respect, trust and confidence.'

The popular manager of CANN, based in North Walsham and Fakenham, was made redundant as a result of the merger, which saw the north Norfolk, Yare Valley, and Norwich and West Norfolk bureaux forming a Norfolk body.

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The north Norfolk volunteers believe the merger process did not follow the rules and will result in a 'Norwich-centric' service with fewer face-to-face opportunities to help people in rural areas.

And now about 10 people, all north Norfolk residents with voluntary advice sector experience, have formed a Citizens' Watch group aimed at challenging decision-makers.

A spokesman said: 'We think it is vital that local advice sector services maintain local, paid, professional advice supported by volunteers, and we strongly believe control of local services should be kept local, with local site supervision.'

In the past year a home-visiting service had been dropped, as had outreach services to five or six communities including Sheringham and Stalham.

Weekend opening had ended and services were now only offered four days a week. Paid debt and welfare benefits specialists had also been axed and their work was now done by volunteers.

The formation of Citizens' Watch follows two independent investigations into the CANN merger following an official complaint by volunteers.

The investigating officers' report has not been published but Norfolk CAB chief executive Steve Cheshire said it: 'recognised both a technical error, and that for some volunteers in North Walsham, the merger was unwelcome.'

Mr Cheshire added: 'Following this outcome, legal advice was taken which concluded that the merger was valid within the terms of the governing document.'

The Citizens' Watch spokesman, who asked not to be identified, said morale among the volunteers was low.

'They are supposed to be working for an organisation that fights on social justice issues and is ethical but they don't feel it's behaved like that towards them,' she added.

Mr Cheshire said Norfolk CAB urged volunteers to consider its offer of mediation from the board, without conditions attached: 'to work through a solution together and find a way to move forward.'

He added: 'Our priority is to ensure that we deliver advice and support to all our clients across the county as and where they need it. For many this means that we need to improve our accessibility via the telephone, but we also need to improve the access to expertise in local communities, as we are aware of the poor access to transport and internet that we face in rural Norfolk.'

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