Citizens Advice East Herts to be 'hit hard' after 10% funding cut by East Herts Council
The Liberal Democrats have attacked funding cuts for two key charities by Conservative-controlled East Herts Council.
As part of measures to plug a £190,000 gap in its balance sheet, the local authority has sliced 10% off its grants to Citizens Advice East Herts (formerly Citizens Advice Bureau) and the district's CVS (Community Voluntary Services).
The decision to remove £20,000 funding over the next two years was taken despite an emergency amendment by Bishop's Stortford Lib Dem Cllr Louie Corpe.
He said: "I'm very disappointed that the Conservative councillors did not accept my amendment.
"The cut to the CA is a false economy. Last year, in East Herts alone, they generated an estimated £1.2m in fiscal benefits – that is savings to Government and public services by reducing pressure on health, housing and out-of-work benefits. That's because CA helps people to deal with issues earlier before they have time to escalate into more serious problems.
"Cutting CA's funding is like pretending you can save money by not changing the oil in your car engine or not paying off the interest on your credit card. It's a short-term saving that will lead to more cost down the line.
"The Conservative group did not give any evidence that this cut would save money in the longer term."
Cllr Corpe had called for the savings to be found elsewhere, for example by slightly increasing the target recycling rate.
He was supported by his fellow Stortford Lib Dems. Cllr Mione Goldspink, leader of the party's group on EHC, said that the decision contradicted the council's corporate plan, which promises to protect vulnerable residents.
Cllr Chris Wilson said: "Many of CA's clients are honest, hard-working families who have simply fallen on hard times.
"At a time when we are building hundreds of new houses around the town, we should be increasing funding to vital services like these, not reducing it.
"This budget cut represents less than 0.1% of the council's revenue budget and could have been found elsewhere. At this stage, it looks like it was an unnecessary cut from the Conservative-controlled council."
Citizens Advice has offices in South Street in Stortford and in Hertford, and contact points in Sawbridgeworth, Buntingford and Ware.
It was wary of becoming embroiled in a political row. A spokeswoman said: "We understand the council is under financial pressure and they've worked with us to try to minimise the impact.
"That said, a £10,000 cut per year over the next two years, plus the cost of inflation, will hit us hard. We are a predominantly volunteer-led organisation so it's very hard for us to make cuts of this size."
It costs the CA around £225,000 a year to provide free, impartial advice about issues including debt, consumer and legal problems, benefits and relationships. The team offers specialist debt advice for people with mental health problems.
The spokeswoman said: "The advice we provide can change lives, e.g. keeping families at risk of eviction in their home. Life can be tough and many local residents will have in the past or will in the future use our service at some point.
"The clients we help include those most in need and often need long-term support. Around a third come from the five most deprived East Herts wards, 44% have a disability or long-term health condition, many report mental health issues.
"We'll do everything we can to protect our client services, but this cut will inevitably have an impact if we can't find replacement funding."
The charity is facing a rent rise at its Bishop's Stortford base.
The spokeswoman said: "We are determined that we will continue to be here for those who need us, but hope we can count on those within the community in a position to help to consider how they might support us."