The County You Live, Work And Play
CAB Future Threatened
The need for Citizen's Advice Bureaux has probably never been greater. From welfare reforms to benefit sanctions, fuel poverty to consumer protection queries, CABs across Scotland are a vital help to the public, particularly those marginalised by issues such as poverty or disability.
Cabs help ordinary people claim financial support or assert rights they often didn't even know they had, often when they are at their lowest ebb.
But the crisis facing local authorities means that at this time of need, CABs are almost continually facing financial crisis. Councils have a statutory duty to provide advice services, and all but two in Scotland use the Citizen's Advice network to deliver all or part of that responsibility.
However the pressure on public finances means that somewhere in the country there is almost always a threat to the funding that sustains this provision. Few proposals have been as brutal as those currently under consideration in North Lanarkshire.
The five CABs in its area face devastating reductions in funding of between 49 per cent and 61 per cent.
These are existential-level cuts. The cut proposed for Cumbernauld's CAB could close it, whilst those in Bellshill, Airdrie, Coatbridge and Motherwell would need to lay off staff, and cut services and opening times if they are to survive.
CABs claim this is a false economy. If you give people advice and they claim financial support they were entitled to but not getting, the local economy can benefit from money they wouldn't otherwise have spent. Airdrie and Coatbridge CAB claims to have helped put £2,750,000 in the pockets of local people last year.
Pressure on other services can also be reduced. Take housing for example - timely advice that prevents a family becoming homeless can save a council tens of thousands of pounds.
A recent independent study commissioned by Citizen's Advice Scotland found this kind of benefit was worth £8m in North Lanarkshire alone, per year.
The cost of that to the council has been £569,000 annually - North Lanarkshire is proposing to cut that to £320,000.
The Council's argument is that funding patterns for advice agencies have been inherited from previous administrations and are not tied to performance targets or outcomes. It says there is duplication between the service provided by the CABs, other charity providers and its own services.
It also says nothing has been decided yet. It's somewhat grandly named Transformation Committee considered the cuts recommended by officials, but a final decision will not be made until they reach the Policy and Resources Committee at a later date.
A spokesman for North Lanarkshire Council said: “The council agreed to review all advice services given the substantial overlap which exists and the potential for confusion for residents. No decision has been taken."
Further work will be done before the review is considered again. In the meantime CABs in North Lanarkshire are in limbo, waiting to hear their fate.
There is perhaps a glimmer of hope. A council insider said there is considerable disquiet about these cuts among senior councillors, adding: "This is going to need serious examination."