Could cuts to £368,000 Citizens Advice Bureau grant be phased over time?
PUBLISHED: 09:34 23 November 2018
Calls have been made for controversial plans to axe a six figure grant for Citizens Advice Bureaus in Suffolk to be phased in over a longer period of time.
Suffolk County Council last week published the first draft of its 2019 budget, which featured the £368,000 grant given to the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) to be stripped entirely as part of £11million of cuts.
The plans attracted criticism from the charity, which said its services represented value for money, and would hit the families it serves, as well as the short length of time it would have to make preparations.
At Thursday’s county council scrutiny committee, councillors backed proposals for the cuts to be staggered in order to give the service more time to find alternative funding streams.
Scrutiny chairman Mark Bee said: “I think there is a view that a phased approach could work but it means they [CAB] will have longer to prepare for it.
“It means we can help them with alternative types of funding as well.
“At a time when they have increased work because of responsibility for universal credit they have not got the capacity to deal with that [funding change], and at the same time if we are seen to be just turning the tap off in one then that’s not helpful at all.”
The committee heard suggestions that slashed grants in recent years meant the bureau should have been preparing for cuts.
But Labour councillor Sarah Adams said: “I don’t think our grant was at the top of their minds.
“I didn’t see it coming that the CAB would lose its grant.”
CAB bosses are set to meet with cabinet member Richard Rout and external funding experts at the county council to discuss how it can access additional funding from other sources.
Calls have also been made for its own fundraising activities to be upped.
The cuts are among £11m proposed for council services next year, although it comes amid an overall increase in the council’s budget by around £14m, with the additional cash going into adult social care and children and young people’s budgets.
Janet John from CAB said the cut would “clearly mean a significant reduction in the service we offer and the number of people we can help.”
Councillor David Wood from the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group, said: “Cutting their funding is such a short-sighted decision from the Conservatives at Suffolk County Council.
“It is so irresponsible to inform the CABs of this funding cut just four months before the new financial year.
“How can we expect them to structure their business and fundraise the extra money they need in such a short window?”
In a lengthy discussion which spanned well over six hours, the county council’s scrutiny committee heard the cabinet’s plan to make savings, as well as the cost pressures affecting the two areas of service which required the most cash – adult care and children and young people’s services.
The budget proposals will be discussed by cabinet in January, but the scrutiny committee put forward its recommendations to be considered.
Its proposals are:
• Support the lobbying of the F40 group (the 40 lowest funded councils in England) to the government for more education cash.
• Write to Suffolk’s MPs to support lobbying the government for better funding.
• Use any additional government funding to mitigate against proposed cutbacks, not for propping up reserves
• Back the county council’s policy development panel on special education needs.