Moray Citizens Advice closure threat prompts direct appeal to Councillors

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MORAY’S CITIZENS ADVICE Bureaux has written to all local Councillors appealing for a rethink on plans to withdraw their grant funding from April.

One of the areas that Councillors are believed to be pressing ahead with is the reduction of £30,000 in grant funding to Moray CAB – prompting the organisation to say it was intransigence and demonstrated that meaningful participation in their public consultation was “futile”.

In a letter to councillors today, ahead of their budget meeting on February 14, Eddie Coutts, the chair of the Moray CAB management board, said: “I would hope and anticipate that not all members of the Administration group share this inflexibility – and that the level of funding will not be determined by treating the Bureau as a “soft target”.

“In this respect I would ask members to consider the value of the services provided by the Bureau to the people of Moray and the repercussions were the Bureau to cease to exist.”

The Council learned this week that their funding from the Scottish Government would not be any lower than it was last year. Until that point councillors were working on the assumption that their allocation would be at least £4million lower than it will be.

Moray CAB is one of several cuts that it is hoped may now be avoided – and in the letter to Councillors Mr Coutts makes it clear why he believes that should be the case.

He said: “It will come as no surprise that the demand for the services of the Bureau increases year on year. During 2017 this demand rose to an all-time high, whereby over 7000 client issues were dealt with. This figure represents client number equating to 1 in 20 of the adult population of Moray.

Councillors on the verge of withdrawing CAB funding

“Any funding decision taken which results in the closure of the Bureau would indicate the utter disregard for the future wellbeing of some five percent of our adult population.”

The Council grant funding helps maintain a staff of three full-time equivalent posts at Moray CAB who are supported in turn by 40 volunteers.

Mr Coull said: “Perhaps Members may wish to consider how, in the absence of the Bureau, such a comprehensive and cost-effective service might be achieved.

“Were Moray CAB to close I would invite members to also consider where these individuals, often some of the most vulnerable in our society, might seek independent, comprehensive and free advice or gain representation in the Sheriff Court – all delivered by expertly trained, knowledgeable and experienced advisors. Or are they simply to be written off as unimportant?”

He continued: “Documented evidence from Scottish Bureaux, in who’s areas Universal Credit has been fully implemented, shows a very significant upturn in client numbers. As members will be aware Universal Credit is scheduled to be rolled out in Moray in June 2018.

“Should the experience of these other Bureaux be evidenced here in Moray – and there is no reason to indicate that it would not – Moray CAB anticipates a significant increase in client numbers, particularly in relation to complex issues of housing, social security and debt over the next 12 months.

“Other changes to the Scottish social security system will similarly impact upon demand as will the well-publicized review of personal independence payments.”

Moray CAB operates a main office in Elgin as well as outreach services in Forres, Buckie, Keith, Tomintoul, Dufftown and Lossiemouth. Should they be forced to withdraw the nearest CAB offices would be in Nairn and Turriff.