Advice service cuts – Vic Pritchard:

From the speakers we have heard this evening, and the sheer number of people who have signed this petition, it is evident how much people value the excellent services provided by the Citizens Advice Bureau – and our advice services more generally.

The CAB, under contract for this Council, provides invaluable advice and support to people who have fallen upon difficult times.

I am surprised that the Members opposite appear to be so relaxed about such a big cut to a service which a large number of our vulnerable residents rely upon.

And none of us should forget that any one of us may need to call upon their services at some point in our lives.

This is why residents throughout B&NES are so deeply concerned by the scale of proposed budget cuts – in the order of nearly 60%.

But this issue is not really about the Citizens Advice Bureau itself.  It is about the Council’s muddled approach towards advice services more generally.

Unfortunately, it is abundantly clear that there has been a complete breakdown in the relationship between the Council and its main Advice Service provider.

This is obviously an untenable situation, and this administration has so far completely failed to resolve this impasse.

Instead the Council finds itself in the state we are in today – where it has taken a petition of over 4,000 people to get this Council to listen to residents’ concerns.

The Liberal Democrat motion does nothing to resolve this situation – it simply says carry on, muddle through, and hope that everything will work out in the end.

What is clearly and sorely lacking in this whole sorry process is any real strategy towards the Council’s Advice Services.

Without an Advice Services Strategy in place, how on earth can the Council know what service it wants to commission.

The fact is, the Council is going out to tender for its Advice Services, but it doesn’t actually know what it is tendering for.

Savings do need to be made, and they can be made by reducing duplication and overlap within advice services.

But until we have an Advice Services Strategy in place, it is impossible for Members to really judge what the budget should be.

Therefore our motion proposes a sensible way forward which I hope all Members in this Chamber will be able to support.

We are asking the Cabinet to pause the current tender process whilst an Advice and Information Service Strategy is produced and published.

We understand that time is of the essence and that, because of previous delays and extensions, a tender needs to be issued soon.

But it is better to take some time and get the process right than rush it and get it wrong, particularly as we have been informed by Officers that a Strategy could be produced fairly quickly.

I therefore move the amendment as printed.