Norfolk Citizens Advice Bureau chiefs face tough questions from volunteers past and present

Citizens Advice Bureau Picture: PA Wire

Citizens Advice Bureau Picture: PA Wire - Credit: PA

Senior management at Norfolk Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) faced tough questions yesterday from volunteers past and present, two years after a merger that they say has made vital savings.

Scores of people attended the organisation's annual general meeting in the Assembly House in Norwich to confront those in charge about the number of people who had left the organisation and the way advice was being delivered.

Terry Wogan, who volunteered at the North Walsham bureau for six years, was one of about 40 people who stood down from the organisation's office in the town last year, following discontent with the merger of district offices into Norfolk CAB.

He attended yesterday's meeting with a group of former volunteers from North Walsham, seeking answers from those in charge.

'In North Walsham, we had 45 to 50 volunteers about a year ago. That's down to about 15 across the board,' he said.

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- later saying staff turnover was 'usually an indication of the leadership of an organisation.'

A Norwich volunteer said there had been 12 'crisis days' in the last 12 months, where people had been called in to cover shifts due to reduced numbers.

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A former advisor from the North Walsham bureau asked those in charge: 'Do you regret accepting all the resignation letters you have from volunteers without questioning them? Do you think it's an idea in the future to try and get volunteers to remain?'

Chief executive officer, Steve Cheshire, replied saying he regretted the fact that a number of volunteers had left, but that he thought people went 'when it's the right time for them.'

Chairman John Sharples said: 'We are two years into the merger and we are still where we are.

We are still delivering services in the seven centres and we have no intention of closing centres.

We are an advice service organisation that is under stress. We do not have the money we used to have.'

There were reassurances that a centre would remain in North Walsham, despite pub company Wetherspoons showing an interest in the building it is currently based in.

Mr Wogan said that people with more than 200 combined years of voluntary service had left the North Walsham office and attacked the new advice model 'to spend five minutes with someone on a single issue'.

But Mr Cheshire hit back saying the minimum advice was 20 minutes per person, which nationally is what 75pc to 80pc of people are looking for when they go to the CAB.

He said no-one came into the bureaus looking to give bad advice but that they needed to look at how people were trained on giving that advice.

A former advisor from North Walsham said: 'If the volunteers are not as effective, you might as well close the doors. The climate might be changing for you, but it's worse for clients.'

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