The Citizens Advice Bureau in Bath and North East Somerset has won a temporary reprieve from planned budget cuts of over 55% after councillors agreed to call a pause to the tender process for its advice services contract.
During a heated Full Council debate last Thursday, 14th November, councillors eventually voted in favour of a Conservative proposal which calls upon the Council to go back to the drawing board and produce an Advice Services Strategy before deciding whether or not to go ahead with such deep budget cuts.
During the meeting, councillors heard impassioned pleas from residents and volunteers at the Citizens Advice Bureau who called upon the Council to rethink plans to cut its advice services budget from £407,000 a year to just £182,000.
The authority’s Liberal Democrat Cabinet faced heavy criticism from Conservative councillors for its mishandling of the Council’s advice services contract and its failure to produce an Advice Services Strategy.
In scenes witnesses described as ‘farcical’, Liberal Democrat councillors ultimately dropped their own motion, which would have committed the Council to pushing ahead with the plans, and decided to instead support a Conservative proposal calling a pause to the process.
Conservative shadow spokesman for Wellbeing, Cllr Vic Pritchard moved the Conservative proposal. He said:
“The fact that over 4,000 people signed a petition against the Council’s cuts to the CAB demonstrates just how passionate people are about this subject. It’s clear just how much people value having a high-profile generalist advice service which they know they can turn to during times of difficulty. If the Liberal Democrats had been allowed to plough on with their previous plans this service could be lost forever.
“The tender process for the Council’s advice services contract has been completely mishandled right from the start, and sadly there appears to have been a complete breakdown of relations between B&NES and the CAB. It defies logic that the Council can issue a tender for advice services before producing a strategy which details what it wants from the service. Some savings can of course be made, but until an Advice Services Strategy is in place it’s impossible to say exactly what the budget should be.
“By pausing the tender process this will allow the Council to go back to the drawing board, repair relations with the CAB, and produce its promised Advice Service Strategy.
“We’re pleased the Lib Dems eventually agreed to support this approach, it’s just a shame that we came up with such resistance and witnessed such farcical scenes from the administration before achieving this outcome.”