Post by Colin Henderson on Feb 19, 2016 14:52:19 GMT
Thanks to poster vickyg who replied to the Hereford thread with news from Slough which I reproduce below. As per, there is nothing in the media that I can find. I wonder how many other agencies are on the brink but dare not speak out?
Post by Colin Henderson on Feb 19, 2016 14:55:43 GMT
"Citizens Advice Slough will be lucky if we make it to 31st March 16. From then, the 250,000+ popn of Slough will have no CAB service.
Still, I take heart that in the tendering exercise, from the commissioners viewpoint, they ticked all the boxes. So thats allright then. What they are replacing us with is cheaper. No apparent plan for delivery of the service, CHEAP, much narrower in focus, CHEAP, untested on any comparable scale, limited if any trained specialist human resources, no back up comparable to CAB, no mention of training of deliverers/ accountability for what is delivered.....but CHEAP (did I mention that already?). Looks like the service will be signposing only. Fat lot of good when the client has had their phone disconnect, doesnt have the busfare, is vulnerable, doesnt understand English etc etc..
Never mind that Slough has one of the highest levels of multi-ethnic populations in the UK where the understanding of English - and especially the understanding of some of our byzantine bureaucracies English - is a challenge for those for whom English IS their primary language.
Never mind that for the £180k we received we prevented over £2m in homelessness costs; nor the fact that we dealt with over 9000 client issues in 2015 alone. Not a bad return on investment, one would have thought.
We have seen increasing levels of: - employer abuse (less than minimum wage being paid/ non payment of wages, cavalier attitudes to employment law esp now fees are involved) particulalry affecting clients who dont have english as a first language - landlord abuse - multiple occupation, unfit housing, more demand than supply even before the bedroom tax - we are one of the favoured localities for London councils clearing housing benefit/homelessness clients. - Error rates by DWP/HMRC leading to unnecessary debts and distress. - Rushes to judgement on council tax - demanding the full year CT bills from people who struggle to may the monthly payments.
You all know the scene. These problems require a knowledge of the system and advocacy. Signposting just doesn't cut it.
What is even more frustrating is the short-termism of the whole thing leading to unnecessary distress. It will cost more money that it saves, the day after tomorrow. In a couple of years, some bright spark on the council will have a brainwave 'We could do with a Citizens Advice Bureau'. Too late. What they already have - 40 vols (advisers and specialists), 6.5 fte specialist staff will be scattered to the wind. (Many to CABs outside the area)
We will fight a rearguard action to see if we can get some independent money to keep some services running - but of course without the core LA funding, it's difficult to get people to match it.
I do so hope that the purchasing people who so successfully ticked their boxes and feel self-satisfied, urgently need some of the services that will be gone after March" ....... vickyg :-(
Post by Colin Henderson on Feb 19, 2016 14:59:32 GMT
"Sadly, our council is Labour and the irony is that in Windsor and Maidenhead (Conservative) the bureau gets a direct grant - albeit smaller than Slough's, but they have a quarter of our traffic - with none of this tendering nonsense.
Slough got hit with a £38m savings requirement so they have had to hit the default 'statutory requirement' button and are only funding services required by the Health & Social Care Act. But they are choosing a narrow definition. Homelessness, mental health issues CAUSED by the stress people are under with nowhere to turn, does not appear to have come into their thinking.
More annoying, and a salutory lesson for other CAS whose LA's undertake commissioning is that our bureau was excluded from making a direct bid because apparently you had to have a turnover of £2m! The tender was also measured on 'outcomes', not on how they were expected to be achieved. So we partnered under the local Age Concern (we have complementary services) who also didn't get it (and are also now cutting back massively) , and P3 et al who were also unsuccessful. Although we offered to partner with the consortium that was to eventually go on to win the bid, the offer was not accepted. So the tender was in fact was awarded to a non legal entity (who also didn't have the requisite turnover); who didn't have a track record of delivering the range of services; and who will now control the budget for all voluntary sector services in the area concerned with Health & Social Care. We didn't have £70k for a judicial review (and in any case there would be no guarantee that the Council would have re-run).
Having had almost 40 years in corporate life before becoming a CAB volunteer, I have to say that this bureau has been a delight and a privilege to work with and in. Its an incredible team, the like of which I have seldom seen in business. Totally focussed on the needs of the clients, constantly adapting to service those needs in the most user friendly way and never self satisfied about the quality of the service delivered. Incredible teamwork from a group of volunteers and staff who closely represent the town's demographics. But - because of that focus - not good at self promotion or self publicity within the stakeholders.
There are lots of lessons in this : 1) Make sure your primary sponsors really understand what you do by constantly being 'in their faces' about features and benefits 2) ensure you have trustees who are up to being an assertive board and have the skills of a quasi corporate board and that they are prepared to use them to ensure the continuance of funding 3) Expand your funding base. No sane company would have 60% of its funding from one source. Whilst our CEO has done a fabulous job of match funding in the past (relative to many other bureaux) you have to have what is seen to be a secure £££ base in order to attract the rest. I don't know if councils are thinking that the magic money tree will replace their contribution, or whether actually, their officers just don't really care. Poverty, hardship and incompetent bureaucracies are things that users of Advice / advocacy services obviously bring upon themselves. Certainly seems to fit with the government narrative. 4) ensure the local press and institutions (churches, gurdwara, clinical commissioning groups, businesses, schools etc) are well informed of the 'cost' of losing local advocacy. 4) have a strong team of volunteers, staff & supporters who are prepared to put in extra time on such occasions, to keep the show on the road.
All these are tricky with limited resources and budgets when the main focus has to be on the clients. I am sure there are lots of others lessons that Hertfordshire, Newcastle etc etc can add into this mix.
One thing I will repeat. Volunteering for Slough CAB has been a pleasure, a delight and a privilege. I would recommend to anyone who reads this blog to do so with your local bureau, whilst you can. The training is superb, the back-up amazing and the clients are (in the main!) delightful and very humbling.
I'll let you know if an as yet unknown philanthropist steps in to keep us afloat!."