Hunts CAB to close by Christmas

HUNTINGDONSHIRE’S Citizens Advice Bureaux will be closed by the end of the year, their six employees and more than 40 part-time volunteer advisers learned on Monday.

The board of trustees took the decision on Friday to put the limited liability company that runs the bureaux in Huntingdon and St Neots, with outreach services elsewhere in the district, into administration.

Although the bureaux, which are overwhelmingly financed by Huntingdonshire District Council, can continue to meet their operating costs, they would come nowhere near meeting a six-figure contingent liability to the under-funded local government pension scheme to which employees have been entitled to belong since 1996.

The service provides free confidential employment, financial and family advice to people living in and close to the district. Last year, it helped 5,000 clients, seeing many of them on several different occasions with a variety of problems.

Chairman Michael Mealing told The Hunts Post that the Hunts bureaux would close before the end of the year, but he hoped an equivalent advice service would continue to operate until April next year when the company’s service level agreement expires.

Neighbouring Rural Cambs CAB, which is less heavily reliant on district council funding, is expected to bid to run the Huntingdonshire service from April 2013 and may also agree to fill the gap in the early months of next year.

“HDC has been very generous in providing more than 80 per cent of the funding, but in this era of cuts the council cannot continue that level of support. The organisations it supports will now be expected to achieve match-funding.

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“A number of bureaux have been going belly-up over recent years. It’s increasingly difficult for a small local organisation to provide this sophisticated level of advice at the same time as meeting its IT, accommodation and business planning needs.

“This is sad, particularly for the volunteers, but people should be aware that we have done a lot for our community, and the service has been improving. Although we have to accept that we are in for a period of change and uncertainty, we hope the service will continue.”

HDC’s executive leader, Councillor Jason Ablewhite, said: “I am saddened to hear that the trustees of Huntingdonshire CAB have announced that they are set to close, as the service is no longer financially viable.

“Huntingdonshire District Council places great value on the role of the Citizens Advice Bureau and has been working extensively with the bureau to look at all the possible options to keep this service operating in its current form, before this difficult decision had to be taken by the board.

“I recognise that this service is very important to our residents, especially now as many people face financial difficulties during the economic downturn. We will be actively seeking other ways to help provide this essential service in Huntingdonshire.

“I would like to reassure residents that we are absolutely committed to making sure that an independent advice service will be available in our district in both the long and short terms.”