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Challenge to council plans to axe Citizens Advice funding fails

A challenge to plans to axe funding to Citizens Advice at Suffolk County Council has failed to gain traction.

The Labour and Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent groups united to ‘call in’ the decision made by cabinet on Tuesday to cut £368,000 of grant funding to Citizens Advice over two years.

If successful, a council monitoring officer would have been asked to rule on whether the correct process had been followed.

Suffolk County Council headquarters at Endeavour House, in Ipswich.
Suffolk County Council headquarters at Endeavour House, in Ipswich.

The opposition groups claimed the council had made the decision before the results of an equality impact assessment (EIA) had been published – a document which analyses the impact a new policy will have.

But the council’s monitoring officer confirmed that as the final decision still had to be made by full council on February 14, and the cabinet proposals would be the subject to a full debate, no process was breached.

A council spokesman said: “The constitution is clear that the setting of the budget is a decision for full council, where the budget recommended by cabinet – and any amendments submitted – will be subject to full debate and vote.

“On Tuesday, cabinet agreed its recommendation to council. As the final decision is by council and not cabinet, then the call-in provisions do not apply.”

Labour councillor Peter Gardiner, who called in the decision, said: “The cut to Citizens Advice will have a massive impact on the future budgets of the county council.

“Citizens Advice do tremendous work in providing early intervention services that mean people get the right help at the right time.

“This work means people don’t need to come to the county council in crisis when intervention is most expensive.

“The equality impact assessment shows that there is no plan B for Citizens Advice, the council are simply washing their hands of those who need the service.

“By releasing the EIA after the meeting there has been no chance for the CAB to respond and therefore cabinet cannot have been in full possession of the facts.

Andrew Stringer, from the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, who seconded the call-in, added: “We are proud to have called-in the decision to cut funding to Citizens Advice in Suffolk.

“It is completely unacceptable that Suffolk County Council’s cabinet made this decision without even bothering to read the equality impact assessment or consultation responses.

“It makes a mockery of the process and shows that this Conservative council holds the people of Suffolk in contempt: it isn’t listening to them, and it certainly doesn’t care about the impact these cuts will have on their lives.”

The matter will be debated by full council on February 14, and if approved, will come into effect at the start of the new financial year in April.

Conservative cabinet member for environment and public protection, Richard Rout, hailed the 'great efforts' made by Citizens Advice staff and volunteers in their day to day work but said there were ways it could 'continue to provide a good level of service across Suffolk'.

He added: “Our discussions (with Citizens Advice staff) were wide ranging and touched on opportunities around premises, fundraising activities, level of support from town and parish councils and potential for organisational change and savings this could deliver.”