The proposed cut to the Citizens Advice Bureau budget in Cornwall will face an opposition vote from councillors when the final council budget is decided.
The Economy Growth and Development scrutiny committee yesterday voted to reject the CAB cut entirely.
Chair of CAC Trustees, Sue Swift, said:
“Such a huge cut would mean a severe reduction in the number of people we can help, just at the time when we are seeing record numbers of people grappling with issues such as debt, benefit claims, housing, employment issues and discrimination.
“It also comes just as the Government is introducing sweeping reforms to the welfare system with the rollout of Universal Credit in Cornwall next year.”
Mrs Swift added:
“Our biggest concern is how people will access help or whether they will just suffer in silence. Last year we dealt with 19,000 cases at our offices from Bude and Saltash to Penzance. Some of these people are extremely vulnerable and we also offer emergency help with heating and foodbank vouchers.
“Cornwall is one of the poorest areas of the country and scaling back our services just when people are being squeezed with benefits reductions, low wages, increasing debt and rising inflation will cause more suffering.”
In 2016/17, Citizens Advice Cornwall helped gain £4.2 million in income for people in the county and wrote off a total of £5.8 million in person debt.
Mrs Swift said: “We are a cost effective charity because we’re helping bring money into Cornwall that would otherwise be lost. Our 164 volunteer advisers do an excellent job for no pay and last year committed a total of 29,017 hours to Citizens Advice worth £216,177.
“While we understand the council is under pressure to reduce spending, we think this is the wrong time to make such a large cut to our essential service.”
Volunteer adviser, Jonathon Calverley, who volunteers in the Falmouth office, said: “We are concerned about the effects the proposed cuts will have on the people we see on a daily basis.
“We would like anyone who supports our work to sign the petition and persuade councillors to vote against the cuts.”
The petition can be signed online at http://chn.ge/2B4sXVJ or in any Citizens Advice office.
Citizens Advice offers free, independent and impartial advice to all members of the community in Cornwall from offices in Saltash, Liskeard, Bodmin, St Austell, Newquay, Truro, Falmouth, Camborne and Penzance. Outreach sessions are also held in Launceston, Wadebridge, St Columb Major, Bude, Torpoint, Callington and St Mary’s on the Isles of Scilly.
Sessions are also held at Cornwall Council’s children’s centres across Cornwall.
The council has now launched a survey to gauge how and when residents use CAC and the impact their service has had on them.
Cornwall Council is faced with finding another £75 million in cuts by April 2021. This is in addition to the £300 million that it has already endorsed since 2009.
It was originally proposed that the Council’s grant to CAC be stopped altogether to help achieve some of these savings however, the current budget proposes that the level of funding from Cornwall Council to CAC is set at £153,000 for the next three years.
Cornwall Council leader Adam Paynter, who attended yesterday’s committee meeting, said: “We are proposing to reinstate a grant to CAC as we recognise that austerity and things like the roll out of Universal Credit have a big impact on our communities. To help us make decisions about funding, we are asking residents to let us know how and when they have used the services of CAC in the past two years. We want to know how useful residents have found the advice, information and general advocacy service that CAC provides to communities in Cornwall.”
He adds: “The Council is facing the unenviable challenge of having to decide which services to deliver and how to deliver them with less budget. The only way to do this effectively is to do things differently and make changes in how we work and how we contribute to other organisations and get the best value for money. We are continuing to talk to CAC about the way forward. A final decision on the Council’s budget will be made by members in February 2018.”
You can find the survey here