Recommendation published for merger of Citizens Advice Bureaux in East Suffolk

Sudbury Citizens Advice will still be helping people by email and phone.

Three Citizens Advice Bureaux in East Suffolk are considering a merger - Credit: Archant

Plans for a merger of three Citizens Advice Bureaux in East Suffolk have taken a step closer after councillors agreed to fund further work on a delivery plan.

But leaders at the three centres have stressed that they must retain their own identity and bases.

East Suffolk Council last year worked with the three CABs - Felixstowe, Leiston and Saxmundham, and North East Suffolk - to commission a report exploring transformation plans to help improve services.

Councillors have stressed that the three bureaux were working well and were not imposing demands on those services, but recognised that a merger could deliver better funding opportunities, improved online services, the ability to recruit more specialised skills and closer working.

It said it was not about delivering savings.

The report compiled by Touchstone Renard Management Consultants was published in late 2020, and said: "We believe that a merger of all three CABs offers the best opportunity for a genuine transformation of services across East Suffolk."

A summit of the three CABs with the council took place in November, where the chairmen and women of the three agreed: "Merging CA Felixstowe, CA Leiston and CANES [CA North East Suffolk] into one is the most sensible way forward, if each retains its own identity and advice centre locations.

"Each of the current bureaux must be involved in discussions and proposals on an equal footing."

East Suffolk Council leader Steve Gallant has reminded people why to practice social distancing Pic

Steve Gallant, Conservative East Suffolk Council leader, said the Citizens Advice merger was not about savings - Credit: Archant

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East Suffolk Council's cabinet on Tuesday night agreed to fund further work by Touchstone Renard to develop an implementation plan for a merger between the three.

Council leader Steve Gallant, Conservative, said: "In the current climate we are going through and the challenges out there, the public are absolutely being supported 100% by Citizens Advice, and we are committed as a council to continuing to support them to deliver those vital services.

"This is not about saving money, this is about making the service even more efficient, and the reality is that we have worked with Touchstone and Citizens Advice to come up with a delivery model that is going to prove to be more efficient going forward, thus allowing them to use what limited resources they have in order to deliver a better standard of services."

The council currently provides funding of just under £200,000 per year in total distributed across the three centres, with a commitment to maintain that level until the end of the current administration in 2023.

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East Suffolk Green councillor Caroline Topping welcomed engagement with other CABs on the Citizens Advice merger - Credit: GLI Group

Caroline Topping, leader of the council's Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent group, said she welcomed engagement with other CABs across the country which have already undergone transformation programmes or mergers, but said any new set-up would need to work geographically.

She said: "We are a very large district and we are very long, so if it [the headquarters] is one end or the other that is going to be detrimental to the other end, so that needs to be placed in the right place."

A timescale for the implementation plan has not yet been laid out, but the council confirmed the bureaux would not be pressured into rapid changes.