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Final plea made to safeguard cash for Citizens Advice

PUBLISHED: 00:01 08 February 2019

Staff and volunteers from Suffolk branches of Citizens Advice outside Endeavour House, Ipswich, ahead of the  Suffolk County Council cabinet meeting discussing funding cuts. Picture: NELLEKE VAN HELFTEREN

Staff and volunteers from Suffolk branches of Citizens Advice outside Endeavour House, Ipswich, ahead of the Suffolk County Council cabinet meeting discussing funding cuts. Picture: NELLEKE VAN HELFTEREN

NELLEKE VAN HELFTEREN

Fresh calls to protect Citizens Advice funding have been made to Suffolk County Council, as an amendment to controversial budget proposals has been put forward ahead of next week’s key decision.

Labour group leader Sarah Adams said concerned Tory councillors needed to stand up for Citizens Advice. Picture: GREGG BROWNLabour group leader Sarah Adams said concerned Tory councillors needed to stand up for Citizens Advice. Picture: GREGG BROWN

On Thursday, February 14, the final vote on 2019/20 budget proposals will take place at Suffolk County Council’s full council meeting, where divisive cuts to the £368,000 Citizens Advice grant over two years has been put forward by the Conservative administration.

But the opposition Labour group, which has already called for a reversal of the cuts, has now tabled an amendment to ringfence £2,500 from each councillor’s locality budget – an £8,000 pot each councillor has to spend on projects and improvements in their ward – for Citizens Advice.

With 75 elected councillors, the proposal would secure £187,500 for Citizens Advice’s core funding.

It means that the £184,000 Citizens Advice is set to lose in 2019/20 is covered, while further ways to cover funding will be explored for 2020/21. Sarah Adams, Labour group leader, said the planned cuts were “a dangerous act of self-harm that will pile even more pressure on the council’s beleaguered public services”.

Richard Smith, Suffolk County Council cabinet member for finance and assets, acknowledged difficult decisions had to be made with budget cuts. Picture: SIMON LEE PHOTOGRAPHY/SCCRichard Smith, Suffolk County Council cabinet member for finance and assets, acknowledged difficult decisions had to be made with budget cuts. Picture: SIMON LEE PHOTOGRAPHY/SCC

She added: “Labour have put forward this amendment because we simply cannot stand by and watch the Tories hack away at one Suffolk’s most valuable organisations.

“This is a sensible and logical proposal. By reallocating existing money, we are protecting the vital work the CAB do to support thousands of residents across Suffolk.

“If the Tories decide to ignore our reasonable budget amendment, they will do so in the knowledge that they are placing even greater financial pressure on our public services in the coming years.

“I know that a number of Conservative backbenchers feel deeply uncomfortable about these cuts, but it is about time they make a public stand and tell their leadership, ‘enough is enough’.”

The amendment is set to be debated on Thursday during the budget agenda item.

If approved, any planned changes will take effect from April.

Richard Smith, Conservative cabinet member for finance and assets, previously said that he recognised the work of Citizens Advice, but said: “There are no easy choices at this point.

“Every call we have to make on where to find savings is tough at this point but we must balance the budget by law and it is right to focus our efforts on our highest priority areas to protect and support our most vulnerable residents.

“I accept that in order to protect these services that represent such a large part of our overall spend each year, we must find savings across the remaining service areas.”

The budget, while making more than £10million of cuts in areas such as road sign maintenance, Duke of Edinburgh accreditation and bus timetables, among other areas, comes amid an overall spending increase of around £15m on last year’s budget, which will go towards supporting the county’s most vulnerable in children’s and adult care services.

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