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Citizens Advice services in Suffolk thrown lifeline after Clinical Commissioning Groups step up to fill funding gap

Citizens Advice services in Suffolk have been thrown a lifeline after two clinical commissioning groups stepped up to pay the £187,000 that was due to be cut from their funding this year.

Suffolk County Council has proposed the 50 per cent cut to Citizens Advice funding in 2019/20, with a view to cutting it completely next year.

But the joint agreement between the county council, NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG and NHS West Suffolk CCG means that funding to the service for the coming year will total £374,000 - the same as last year.

Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich. (7097754)
Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich. (7097754)

Jane Ballard, district manager for Suffolk West Citizens Advice, said: "I don't think any of us had any idea that these discussions were in progress and I'm really pleased with the outcome.

"Of course it's only looking at this year but it's going to allow us to have some very useful conversations with the CCGs as well as the county council and I do think that that is good news for the us and for our clients."

Carol Eagle, manager of Mid Suffolk Citizens Advice, also said she was 'really pleased and relieved'.

"It's exciting news and it gives us a lot more confidence for planning going forward," she said.

She added that, like Jane, she was also concerned about the year after next but hoped this agreement would 'open new doors'.

"Hopefully this is the start of a good, positive working relationship with the CCGs because we've never ever had funding from them before so this good be great and we appreciate the fact that Suffolk County Council is facilitating it. We're very grateful," she said.

The cuts are part of Suffolk County Council's plans to save more than £11million, with the 2019/20 budget due to be discussed at a full meeting on Thursday.

Dr Ed Garratt, chief officer for both CCGs, said: “By working together with our colleagues at the council, we have been able to identify future funding for Citizens Advice. This is a great example of Suffolk’s authorities supporting each other to find solutions.

“We are delighted that we have been able to make this joint announcement before the council approves its budget for this coming financial year, as all parties recognise the positive contributions made by our local Citizens Advice, including to the health and wellbeing of people across Suffolk.”

The announcement comes after a public consultation was carried out by the council to understand the impact the changes would have on the service as well as a public petition against the cuts.

It's going to allow us to have some very useful conversations with the CCGs as well as the county council and I do think that that is good news for the us and for our clients - Jane Ballard

Cllr David Wood, Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group spokesperson for environment and public protection, said: “We of course welcome this U-turn. Citizens Advice provide an invaluable service, and it’s only right that they should be properly funded.

"It's just such a shame that Suffolk County Council couldn’t have arranged this sooner. Rather than discussing funding arrangements with partner organisations, the Conservatives attempted to steamroll through a poorly thought out and incredibly harmful policy. Now that it is clear how unpopular this funding cut will be, they’ve backtracked – but in the process they have put CAB managers under an inordinate amount of pressure and have wasted countless hours.

"This could all have been avoided if they had simply taken a collaborative approach to begin with.”

Cllr Sarah Adams, leader of the Labour Group, said: “I am absolutely delighted for the CAB and its users and I am thrilled that the Labour group were successful in campaigning for this positive outcome. However, it is clear that the Tories at Suffolk County Council are in complete disarray.

“It seems a miracle that, just a matter of days after submitting our budget amendment, the Tories have suddenly managed to find the necessary funding - it appears that Theresa May is not the only one who has access to the magic money tree when push comes to shove.

“Let’s be under no illusions, the Conservative leadership have not made this decision because they value the CAB and their work but because of the continuing political fallout.

“Cllr Hicks has made more U-turns than a dodgy plumber and it is little wonder that Tory backbenchers are already questioning whether they made the right choice last summer."

Cllr Nick Gowrley, Mid Suffolk District Council’s leader, said: "Citizens Advice is often the only place to which someone in need can turn for help.

"That support is vital to those that need it. This agreement is therefore very welcome indeed and means our Citizens Advice teams can now plan for next year with certainty.

"A long-term arrangement is still needed, but with time to discuss it I’m very hopeful that one can be found."

Cllr Richard Rout, cabinet member for environment and public protection, said: “It is excellent news that the council and CCGs have worked together across the Suffolk system to arrange this funding for 2019/20 and to build on the relationships that already exist between all parties in Suffolk.

“Since the Council’s initial proposal, I have remained confident that other sources of funding are indeed out there and that our Citizens Advice can continue to provide their valuable services.

“As previously committed to, I look forward to working with Citizens Advice to explore further funding and transformation opportunities. We will continue to offer our support to consider these in the future.”

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