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Fears raised over impacts of financial restructuring process on Citizens Advice services in Suffolk

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Fears are being voiced that the Citizens Advice network in Suffolk is being forced to restructure to make it more financially efficient, despite providing a vital service.

The matter was raised during a scrutiny meeting at Suffolk County Council on Tuesday, when the reinstatement of a £120,000 annual local authority grant was discussed – a year after it was announced funding would cease.

That grant has been pledged on the proviso that all Suffolk branches – which are independent charities – complete organisational transformations, in order to become more financially self-sustaining after a period of three years.

Suffolk County Council, Endeavour House (26251830)
Suffolk County Council, Endeavour House (26251830)

But John Field, Liberal Democrat councillor, said: “We are driving a highly-effective charity to transform its structure.

“Are we going the right way here, or are we obsessed with forcing organisational change?”

He added: “Given the council has actually received an extra £7 million in funding, surely the sensible thing to do would be to use this money for services like Citizens Advice that desperately need it – rather than simply stashing it away into reserves.”

Richard Rout, cabinet member for environment and public protection, pointed to the changes made in west Suffolk Citizens Advice as evidence that efficiencies could be found.

Instead of remaining as separate charities, five of the branches in west Suffolk have all been embraced under a single west Suffolk organisation, while retaining their individual offices in each of the five towns.

Cllr Rout said: “Looking at the model in the west that is successful, the managers, by and large, recognise that savings can be delivered through organisational change.

“I don’t think any of us question the contribution that Citizens Advice makes to Suffolk.”

The county council last year announced the £368,000 annual grant would be axed, albeit phased out over the course of two years, but in this budget, the authority has restored £120,000 per year for three years.

That announcement prompted a cross-council review panel to be set up to assess means of supporting the network.

Data published at the end of December by the task group found that Citizens Advice helped central and local government save £8.1 million and produced wider economic benefits of £48.1 million.