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A charity which saves the authorities thousands each year by offering debt and other advice is facing an uncertain future.
And the situation has not been helped after Argyll and Bute Council slashed funding to the organisation by a quarter in last year’s budget.
A year ago Argyll and Bute Citizens Advice Bureau (ABCAB) employed 14 staff alongside 16 qualified volunteer advisers in Lochgilphead, Helensburgh and Dunoon.
In recent months, however, a number of staff members have left as project funding came to an end – but another factor was Argyll and Bute Council’s 25 per cent cut from the £55,000 in core funding it had provided prior to 2016.
Gillian McInnes, bureau manager in Lochgilphead, explained the background: ‘The Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) provided funding to us over the last three years for a welfare benefits project and this stopped abruptly – with 30 days’ notice – at the end of March.
‘The board took a decision to continue to fund these posts for a further six months from our reserves in the hope another funding stream would enable these posts to be viable.
‘During the last year we have worked tirelessly to obtain grant funding. We have had some success, but applications to the value of over £120k have been unsuccessful – however we continually seek funding.’
ABCAB chairman Iain Ritchie added: ‘Our funding in 2017/2018 has reduced due to the natural ending of contracts and our inability to obtain replacement monies.
‘A new project, Money Services Argyll, started bringing together a number of partners and we hope this opportunity will enable us to maintain the invaluable service we provide to our communities.’
A spokesperson for Argyll and Bute Council commented: ‘We have been working with all of our advice service partners to carry out a review of advice services in Argyll and Bute. Future funding arrangements will be considered as part of the budget-setting meeting in February 2018.’
‘I find it hard to understand [the cut in funding] when ABCAB saves the council money in terms of dealing with problems and securing money for those who need support,’ said Councillor Dougie Philand.
Fellow Mid Argyll councillor Sandy Taylor said: ‘There is no doubt in my mind that ABCAB makes a much-valued, positive contribution to public service and to the communities of Argyll and Bute and I will press the case for a sustainably funded Argyll and Bute Citizens Advice Bureau.’
In 2015/16, ABCAB gave advice 8,418 times to 1,789 clients. Of these enquiries, 40 per cent were about debt and a further 25 per cent concerned benefit entitlement.
ABCAB estimates that 70 householders were saved from losing their homes, while around £4 million in debt was moved to affordable payment plans for clients.
According to ABCAB, for every £1 of core funding prior to the 25 per cent cut, the benefit was £28.
If you would like to comment on the next council budget, visit www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/planningourfuture2017.