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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 07/12/2004
Brief Notes of the Community Overview and Scrutiny Committee Workshop on Citizens' Advice Bureaux held on 22nd June 2004



ANNEXE 1

BRIEF NOTES OF THE COMMUNITY OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY
COMMITTEE WORKSHOP ON CITIZENS’ ADVICE BUREAUX, HELD ON
22ND JUNE 2004 AT THE BAPTIST CHURCH, QUEEN STREET,
GODALMING AT 6.30 PM

Background

1. In January 2004, the Community Overview and Scrutiny Committee agreed that, inter alia, a strategic review of the role and operation of the Citizens’ Advice Bureaux (CABx) in Waverley be undertaken, working with the CABx (to reach conclusions).

2. As part of this review, Members of the Committee were afforded the opportunity during May to visit the four CAB offices in the Borough, at Godalming, Haslemere, Cranleigh and Farnham. Following these visits, Members were invited to a workshop as part of the Committee's information gathering process.

3. This workshop was chaired by the Chairman of Community Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Mrs P Frost, and attended by ten other Members of the Committee who were able to ask questions of the guest speakers, Mr R Emmerson, National Development Officer, South East Region and Ms D Draper, Business Management Consultant, National Association of Citizens’ Advice Bureaux (NACAB); Mrs J Gaskell (Haslemere and Cranleigh CAB), Mrs G Sharp (Farnham CAB) and Mrs C Dunnett (Godalming CAB).

The Workshop

4. The focus of the workshop was to receive information on the plans and vision for the service over the next five years.

5. Each of the local CAB Managers gave a brief presentation, "Vision for the Future", to support their aim of increased access to advice and information across the Borough. This they proposed to achieve by retaining the core service in the four towns and by developing delivery methods which were "innovative and properly targeted". The key long-term outcome of such provision would, the Managers maintained, lead to an increase in social inclusion and quality of life for people in Waverley. They emphasised strongly that this outcome would contribute significantly to bringing about Waverley Borough Council's own key objectives. At the moment, however, their concern was the uncertainty they felt regarding the extent of the Council’s commitment to the service, particularly as Waverley was the primary source of core funding of the CABx.

6. The CAB managers stressed that the key issue was the support Waverley provides to fund the core activities of the service. Other projects and activities to develop the service could be (and have been) successful in attracting other funding but the core funding provided by Waverley was an essential ingredient in being able to tap into these other funds.

7. The Managers highlighted some of the initiatives the CABx had instigated themselves or in partnership with Waverley. These included internet kiosks, a youth advice project and, on the horizon, a new mobile advice service aimed at rural communities. In seeking to promote the retention of four CABx, the Managers stressed that Waverley had itself chosen to maintain a Locality Office service for customers based on the same main centres of population.

8. Mr Emmerson, in his address, made the point that Waverley was probably unique in having four CABx. He stressed that, whilst there might be certain advantages in having a single Waverley CAB, as advocated by some, these needed to be set against other factors, one being that none of the existing offices was in a central position in a purely geographical sense. He went on to explain NACAB's role and what it is able to do in practical terms within the constraints imposed by Central Government and the fact that it did not enjoy the benefit of a recognisable profile in the eyes of the public, unlike some other charitable organisations.

9. The Chairman reaffirmed that Waverley wished to approach the review in a spirit of partnership, but emphasised that the Council had itself to operate against a difficult financial background and, consequently, had to carefully examine all options before determining the sort of CAB service it wished to see provided in the future and the extent to which it was prepared to fund it. Reference was made to the key findings of the District Auditor's report in 2001 which was, in part, critical of the CABx.

10. Some of the other observations made by Members centred around:-

(i) the CABx looking into the possibility of limited charging, fundraising, investigating alternative funding sources, etc;

(ii) greater financial contributions being made by some of the Parish Councils;

(iii) the fact that Waverley was often aware only at a very late stage of CABx needs in the period leading up to budget consideration.

11. The Managers, whilst acknowledging some of the points raised, expressed concern that the CABx were often criticised for pushing ahead with various projects and yet at the same time were expected to produce a business and development plan and this could be frustrating.

12. One of the critical issues raised at the workshop was rent levels and, in particular, the rent charged by Waverley for the Cranleigh CAB premises. Waverley intended to enter into a new lease with Cranleigh CAB but, after several years, this had still not been achieved. An assurance was given to the Chairman that this matter would be looked into and reported upon.

Conclusions/Actions

13. At the end of what was generally agreed had been an extremely useful session, the Chairman made the following suggestions:-

1. a second workshop be held in the autumn (date to be advised) to afford an opportunity for Members and CAB Managers to discuss matters of mutual interest to assist in the budget process (this could even be an annual event irrespective of the current strategic review);

2. the officers with direct responsibility for producing the Overview and Scrutiny review report later this year:-

(i) take into account the points made by the CAB Managers, NACAB and Members at this workshop; and

(ii) examine the possibility of producing service level agreements;

3. the Waverley representatives on the individual CABx be encouraged to report back on management committee meetings that they attend; and

4. Members of Overview and Scrutiny be asked to submit their own suggestions as to how CABx in Waverley should be funded so that these can help inform the final report, such suggestions to be made to Roger Standing in writing or by e-mail by mid-July, if possible.

The workshop concluded at 8.40 pm.

[Note: For those Members who were not able to attend the workshop, hard copies of the presentation material used by the Waverley CABx Managers and by the officers from NACAB are available on request to Roger Standing, Central Services Manager, on (01483) 523221 or from David Bennett, Committee Secretary, on (01483) 523226.

New Members, in particular, are referred also to the comprehensive report on CABx in Waverley contained at Appendix D to the agenda for the meeting of Community Overview and Scrutiny on 27th January 2004 which explains Waverley's position in relation to the CABx and provides much useful historical background. Copies of this report available on request or on the website.]

Comms/o&s2/2004-05/046