Fresh debate over Citizens Advice funding in Suffolk
- Credit: Archant
Fears have been raised that Citizens Advice Bureaux in Suffolk are being forced to change their structure despite performing a vital service.
Question marks were raised during Tuesday's scrutiny meeting at Suffolk County Council, where debate was heard on the return of a £120,000 annual grant by the council just a year after it announced funding would cease.
That grant has been pledged on the proviso that those Bureaux - which are independent charities - made organisational "transformations" to become more financially self-sustaining after three years.
But John Field, Liberal Democrat councillor said: "We are driving a highly-effective charity to transform its structure.
"Are we going the right way here or are we obsessed with forcing organisational change?"
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He added: "Given the council has actually received an extra £7million funding more than it expected to, surely the sensible thing to do would be to use this money for services like Citizens Advice that desperately need it - rather than simply stashing it away into reserves?"
Richard Rout, Conservative cabinet member for environment and public protection pointed to the changes made in West Suffolk as proof that efficiencies could be found.
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Instead of remaining individual charities, five of the CABs in west Suffolk have all been embraced under a single West Suffolk organisation while retaining their offices in each of the five towns.
He said: "Looking at the model in the west that is successful, the managers by and large recognise that savings can be delivered through organisational change.
"I don't think any of us question the contribution the Citizens Advice Bureaux make to Suffolk."
The county council last year announced the £368,000 annual grant would be axed, albeit phased over two years, but in this budget has restored £120,000 per year for three years.
That announcement prompted a cross-council review panel to be set up to assess means of supporting CABs.
Data published at the end of December by the task group found those CABs helped central and local government save £8.1m and produced wider economic benefits of £48.1m.