New task force to support Citizens Advice centres once funding cut hits

Staff and volunteers from Suffolk branches of Citizens Advice outside Endeavour House, Ipswich, ahea

Staff and volunteers from Suffolk branches of Citizens Advice outside Endeavour House, Ipswich, ahead of the Suffolk County Council cabinet meeting discussing funding cuts in early 2019. Picture: NELLEKE VAN HELFTEREN - Credit: NELLEKE VAN HELFTEREN

A task force has been formed across four Suffolk councils in a bid to come up with ideas to support the county’s Citizens Advice centres.

Suffolk County Council announced in January that it would be axing its grant funding for the charity, phased in over two years, worth £184,000 per year.

A zero-hour deal was struck with two of the county's clinical commissioning groups shortly before the council's cabinet agreed the budget proposals, essentially agreeing to fund the £184,000 the CABs would lose for one year.

But now four councils have come together to form a joint task group which aims to come up with ideas in how to support Citizens Advice centres once their county council funding ceases in April.

Alastair McCraw, independent councillor at Babergh District Council and chairman of the Babergh and Mid Suffolk joint scrutiny committee which came up with the idea, said: "We looked at Citizens Advice before the election was announced and decided that it was something we wanted to look further into.

"Last year's funding was saved at the last minute by the CCGs when Suffolk County Council changed their funding.

"We thought that was worrying and it's going to happen again in a year's time, so we set up the group."

All councils in the county have been invited - including Suffolk County Council - with Babergh, Mid Suffolk, Ipswich and West Suffolk councils all agreeing to take part.

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Initial work had begun, but work has had to be put on hold until after December 12 because of the general election, which forces councils into a period called 'purdah'.

Mr McCraw added: "The idea is to provide some solutions to ease the situation across the board.

"The task and finish group is not making any decisions and each council has its sovereign responsibility," adding that any decisions would need to be taken by each council individually.

He stressed that it was "non-political" but a forum in which to come up with ideas.

Carol Eagles, speaking on behalf of the Suffolk Citizens Advice charities involved, said: "We welcome this initiative by a group of councils in Suffolk to look at future funding of the Citizens Advice service in the county.

"We share their concern about the impact of reduced funding for our service on our communities.

"Across Suffolk, our client numbers are up 7% so far this year.

"This growing need shows how important it is for people to be able to access independent advice when they need it.

"Our charities will work closely with the task and finish group to give them the evidence they need."