Post by Colin Henderson on Nov 26, 2014 16:06:25 GMT
Another day, another funding crisis. The Citizens Advice service in Huddersfield and Dewsbury will be hit by 50% core funding cuts from Kirklees Authority. Its reaction is to cut most face to face services and try and substitute online resources.
"A vital advice service in Huddersfield faces being devastated by huge budget cuts. Now volunteers at Huddersfield’s Citizens Advice Bureau are calling for public support amid fears it is set to lose half its funding.
Volunteer Peter Millen said: “People come to the CAB when they’ve nowhere else to go. Once we’ve been cut and our professional colleagues are gone who can they turn to for help? The crazy thing is that the council’s own figures show that our organisation, including KBAS the Benefits Advice specialists, saves Kirklees £32m per year.”
The 11 volunteers who contacted the Examiner with their deep concerns have combined experience of 60 years.
Mark Lacey, Chief Executive of the Kirklees Advice and Law Centre which delivers the CAB service, said: “We have been aware for some months that the council plan to cut funding for advice by 50% from April 1. This is a direct consequence of the financial crash in 2008. Kirklees Council has done a fantastic job in maintaining funding levels up to this point and this has allowed us to continue delivering the service to an ever increasing number of people in need across Kirklees. However, the proposed 50% reduction in council funding represents a massive challenge.
“We have to choose between cutting back opening hours on the existing service or re-designing the service to enable us to help more people with less funding. We have decided to re-design the service in line with Kirklees Council’s policy of “digital by default”. This government policy is also supported by Citizens Advice nationally and they are investing heavily in improving telephone and online services which will benefit our clients.”
Post by Colin Henderson on Mar 28, 2015 10:04:03 GMT
Here's an update on those cuts at Kirklees, including a typical piece of spin from a Bureau manager that 45% cuts are invigorating. Also note that this confirms the demise of Kirklees Law Centre as an independent entity - it has merged with the CAB in order to survive
"Eight staff at Kirklees Citizens’ Advice Bureau are to lose their jobs after funding was slashed in half by Kirklees Council.
The employees – including chief executive Mark Lacey – took voluntary redundancy as funding for the service was axed by around 45%, some £365,000 a year. The workers will go at the end of March and a new slimmed down organisation will emerge.
Deputy chief executive Nick Whittingham, who replaces Mr Lacey, said the service would be leaner but would still help as many, if not more, people. Now called Kirklees Citizens’ Advice & Law Centre, the service will still have drop-in centres at Standard House in Half Moon Street, Huddersfield, and Empire House in Wakefield Old Road, Dewsbury. The service, which celebrated its 75th anniversary last year, helped 1,994 people with a total of £10 million in personal debt in 2013-14, an increase of 25% on the previous year.
Mr Whittingham said the council had worked with the CAB over the last 12 months to prepare for the cuts. There were no compulsory redundancies and a transition payment of £180,000 had been given to help cover severance pay, leases and other costs. People needing help can still walk in off the street but telephone calls will be handled by a call centre.
Mr Whittingham said it may be that the service would move from its current premises in Huddersfield while the Dewsbury offices were currently being refurbished and would open on April 9. He said the loss of funding had proved an opportunity to modernise the service and added: “Sometimes an organisation needs a shock to jolt it onto the next stage. We knew this would happen and we have been working closely with the council. It’s not all doom and gloom and our service is probably more accessible than before and there will be a better client experience. People had got used to coming in early and sitting in a queue and that wait won’t happen anymore.”
Mr Whittingham said the service would “not be as in-depth as it was” and advisors would help clients to help themselves as much as possible such as by searching for information on the internet.
I have run Kirklees Law Centre from the day we set it up in 2005 and I am now CEO of the combined Kirklees Citizens Advice & Law Centre. I think I would have noticed our demise! Yes, we have suffered from LASPO, as have all Law Centres. Yes, we have had local authority cuts. But we have retained significant specialist expertise in Asylum, Welfare Benefits, Community Care, Discrimination, Employment and Public Law. We are still representing clients at first tier and Upper Tribunals and higher courts. We have legal aid contracts (we have even just managed to get exceptional funding for a benefits case!). Last year we brought the first case of transgender discrimination in goods and services to be heard in the County Court. Last month a benefits case we started and have continued to support was heard in the Supreme Court. This seems to me to be the work not of a demised Law Centre, but of one of the leading Law Centres in the country.
In terms of our generalist service, we have turned what could have been a catastrophic funding cut into a genuine service improvement. If you want to understand it, please ask, or come and visit.
If you, or anyone else, are interested in what we are doing in Kirklees please drop me a line ( email@example.com ). In the meantime, I think an apology might be in order - to my hardworking and highly skilled staff and volunteers at the very least.
Post by Colin Henderson on Apr 3, 2015 9:08:42 GMT
Hi Nick, thanks for coming back on this.
Unfair? I simply noted (with some surprise) that the law centre was no longer an independent agency and had merged with the CAB. If that wasn’t to better enable the survival of both organisations then please do explain why it happened.
Ill-informed? Well if that is so perhaps that’s because apart from the local press articles I have reproduced I can find nothing online which either the law centre or the CAB has put out describing what has happened to the services. As I recall at least in Sheffield and Derby the CAB/LC mergers were announced and explained. All I do every week is try to find out what on earth the cuts are doing to our sector on the ground despite the almost total radio silence from the agencies affected and the networks who represent them.
I do understand your defensive tone. You’ve probably negotiated the best deal you could get from your local politicians and if you say anything at all to criticise the effect of their cuts you’ll get serious grief for your ingratitude, and even less next year. But I just think spinning these cuts on behalf of your local authority is a zero sum game; assuring everyone you can do more with less makes you a softer target for the next hit.
Believe me, I take my hat off to your frontline lawyers and advisers and their important casework and no-on is more pleased than I am that many of them are continuing. I just wonder how all your positive messages in the press will read to the eight staff members who were made redundant in the merger. If there is now a “genuine service improvement” following their departure, what contribution does that imply they were making?
Thanks for the offer of more information but rather than private emails here on ilegal we encourage straight talking and debate (as you can tell!) out here on the forum. No spin, no rictus grin, no Stockholm syndrome. If you want to tell us the full tale of how you kept NfP advice and legal services going in Huddersfield and Dewsbury, then our readers would all genuinely like to hear how you did it.
The first is a general comment about the media. It's stating the bleedin' obvious, I know, but don't always believe that what you read is the absolute truth. Journalists come with inbuilt bias, and a key one is that they need to sell a story. Stories about services carrying on as they were, or services merging but the public won't notice the difference are a bit lame and don't get printed. We generally get in the papers either with a particularly noteworthy case (and a client prepared to be identified), or when something bad happens to the service. I accept that we (both me specifically and frontline advice agencies in general) are not terribly good at media work - we often don't have the time to craft 'interesting' press stories to showcase the important work we do. The point I'm trying to make in a long winded way is that press silence is not always a conspiracy on our part to keep service changes secret.
Following from that, you note that mergers of CABx and Law Centres in Derby and Sheffield were in the press. Both of these were forced mergers and there was a 'story' behind them. The position in Kirklees is that the advice sector as a whole (initially 2 CABx, Law Centre and Fusion Housing) has worked closely together since the establishment of the Law Centre in 2005. We had the strategic foresight to anticipate CLACs and took steps to ensure that we created an integrated service run on our terms to avoid the imposition of a CLAC or similar by funders - it worked and there was no 'story'. We obtained funding for a combined reception and interview suite in Dewsbury and operated out of the same building in Huddersfield. When the LSC required us to have a consortium, we were already there and avoided the angst and conflict which arose in some places. We have since had 'transition' funding which has allowed us to develop partnership working, including a shared website www.advicekirklees.org.uk . Fusion Housing have developed their housing related services beyond advice work and while we have thought about merger the fit was not quite right. However, it has become clear that there is a good fit between the Law Centre and the CAB services and we can be more efficient in getting clients to the right service, we can provide better peer support for staff, we can be better placed for making funding applications and, yes, we can make some administrative savings as well. Hopefully, this is a useful model for others in the advice sector to look at, and I repeat that I am happy to discuss it further with anyone interested. It is not, however, of interest to the Huddersfield Examiner or, to be fair, much of the general public.
You suggest that my comments in the Examiner arise from a fear of being critical of Kirklees Council. I would counter that my record suggests otherwise. If you look up the case of Azmi v Kirklees you will see a great deal of press coverage in relation to a client challenging Kirklees Council, you will see me challenging them in the local, national and international media, and you will see the leader of Kirklees Council at the time threatening to cut our funding. Despite this, and other threats from government ministers, and even death threats from far-right groups, we continued to fight for our client. More recently, you will see press coverage of a successful bedroom tax decision we won against Kirklees Council (Gresham). I am not afraid to be critical where we need to be, but I will not do so for the sake of it.
In relation to funding we have a mature relationship with Kirklees Council. They understand the importance of advice work to their citizens and their communities. They are not inclined to cut advice services for the sake of it. Indeed, they still have one of the largest in-house benefits advice teams I know of. They also, some Tory councillors excepted, understand that we are independent and will need to challenge them if that is in the interests of our clients. At the same time, we understand the huge pressure they are under financially as a result of swingeing government cuts and increased pressure on statutory services. With regard to the current funding settlement, the good working relationship we have has meant that they forewarned us of significant cuts and this has allowed us to reconfigure the service to meet those constraints. The alternative, which is what you imply we should be doing, is to cut our services, help fewer clients and spend a lot of effort whingeing about the inevitable damage it will do. Your view is that this might prevent further cuts in the future - I think your analysis is flawed because the cuts are being forced by central government, not driven by local authority dislike of advice services or a bureaucratic desire to make any cuts they think they can get away with.
In terms of the changes we have made, my point was not that I welcome funding cuts, but that sometimes a severe shock forces you to think differently and also allows you to make radical changes which would be difficult to push through otherwise.
The system we had in place for assisting new clients was one familiar to most CABx: clients would queue up first thing in the morning, the lucky few would be allocated 'gateway' appointments and some would then sit in the waiting room for up to three hours watching daytime TV. The rest would be told to come back after lunch or tomorrow. We needed large waiting rooms, reception staff, volunteers and paid staff to operate the 'gateway' - and until the client got through the gateway we had no idea what their issue was, how urgent, how complex. If it was something quick to resolve, the client may have waited 3 hours to find out. If it was not, they would then be told to come back for an appointment another day for 'full advice' or to see a specialist.
Our new system provides computer terminals and telephones for clients to use as soon as they arrive. The volunteers who were previously doing 'gateways' can now provide assistance to help clients find the information they need or access to appropriate advice services quickly. They can also assess clients abilities and vulnerabilities as well as presenting issues - vulnerable clients can be seen face to face immediately, emergencies can be identified and referred quickly, while those able to help themselves can do so without a long wait. If a 'gateway' is appropriate the client can phone through to our telephone service for that to be done immediately while other clients can get that same service by phoning from home, saving them time and the cost of transport (the phone line is local rate and often free). We are embracing new technology, the advantages of the internet as an information source, better telephone systems - and we will keep looking at new options through email, webchat etc.
I think this will provide a better service for clients, and our initial pilot shows that the clients themselves agree. I think it will enable us to see at least as many clients, perhaps more - and this is supported by figures to date from our pilot. I think it will enable us to provide the same level of advice for those who need it most and, while it will require some people to do more to help themselves, I hope that the support we can provide will be empowering and perhaps allow more people to develop some knowledge and skills so that they have less need of advice services in future. I accept that this last is aspirational, but I have no reason not to be positive.
In making these changes we have not lost any casework staff. The redundancies we have made (all voluntary) range from CEO to receptionist, but are all managerial or administrative. I hope the above explains how this has been done without harming the service. It is not that anyone was doing a bad job - we simply had a way of working which had been developed over time and was no longer fit for purpose, and it required some staff to do jobs which are no longer necessary.
This is a one-off gain and our local authority funder is well aware of that. We have planned in a further cut for next year (i.e. our 45% cut has been staggered to allow time for reductions in overhead costs) and level funding the year after. This gives us medium term assurance and some stability for staff and clients at least to 2018.
I hope this is a genuinely positive story and that we can inspire others to develop services which can maintain support for our clients despite the worst efforts of a cynical government. I hope we can promote the value of genuine partnership working both between advice agencies and with our local authorities. And I hope that we can spread the news that, despite everything, we are still there providing services for those in need of advice and that, by changing and developing, we can provide a better service for everyone.
Post by Colin Henderson on Mar 19, 2017 20:02:12 GMT
Sorry I don't monitor ilegal the way I used to, so I have only just seen this post.
Your strength of feeling is noted but you have made some veiled but serious allegations. You will either have to substantiate the allegations and consider waiving anonymity so they can be answered or we may have to delete/modify the post. I have reported it to Patrick tonight; we do sharp debate on ilegal but not personal abuse.
Can I ask if your frustration is due to the further cuts being made at Kirklees? I have just seen this article:
"More jobs are to go at Kirklees Citizens’ Advice Bureau following cuts in government funding. Chief executive Nick Whittingham said there would be job losses among the 45 paid staff working at Kirklees CAB’s offices in Huddersfield and Dewsbury, but said he could not confirm numbers until the current budget had been finalised at the end of this month.
But Almondbury man, Peter Millen, one of 40 volunteer advisers working for Kirklees CAB, said he would be resigning in protest at the cuts once he had honoured appointments booked with clients next Tuesday. He said he understood that 1.5 paid posts were to go from CAB’s Brook Street office in Huddersfield and two posts would be lost at its Wakefield Road site in Dewsbury while managers had agreed to give up one day a week.
In a letter to Mr Whittingham, he said: “As you know, my view is that there remained in Huddersfield a small core of totally professional, utterly committed, expert staff on whose knowledge and experience – as a volunteer – I am totally dependent if I am to safely and usefully help clients.” He said the office was working at “full stretch” and that the loss of “utterly indispensable” frontline staff meant “an already struggling facility for the people of Huddersfield is further, desperately weakened. If the CAB really cannot find a use for the very gifted, expert professionals now being sacked or under-employed, I cannot begin to see how a volunteer like myself, an amateur, can be an adequate substitute, and I am resigning in protest.”
Mr Whittingham said: “There are ongoing government cuts to services across the board and we are going to need to make some efficiency savings. We don’t envisage any substantial reduction in the services we provide. We will lose some staff but I don’t think that will impact on the service. We are increasingly looking at all sorts of funding streams and we have a number of things in the pipeline which may not come through until later in the year.”