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Citizens Advice

Volume 526: debated on Thursday 31 March 2011

6. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on the future levels of Government funding to Citizens Advice; and if he will make a statement. (49970)

Last month I met the Minister with responsibility for civil society, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), and other Ministers with an interest in advice services to co-ordinate our national efforts. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has already agreed to protect the core funding for the umbrella organisations Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland.

I thank the Minister for that answer, which I did not hear much of. Walkden citizens advice bureau, which is in Salford, serves an area that is among the 7% most deprived in the country, and has done since 1939, but it is now under threat because of uncertainty about funding and because of cuts. Will the Minister call a halt to the cuts in funding for advice services, and will he conduct an urgent review on the future of the funding of those vital organisations?

The hon. Lady will know that local citizens advice bureaux are funded by local authorities and that the Government have called on local authorities to play their part, as the national Government are playing their part, and to pass on funding to CAB services. Those services are very important and are valued, and we are looking to all local authorities to play their part.

At a recent meeting I chaired, representatives from individual CABs and other advice centres from across the country gave the loud and clear message that the current uncertainty about the funding of advice services means that advice service centres are closing their doors, expert advice workers are being made redundant and vulnerable people will soon have nowhere to turn for advice. It is all very well the Minister’s blaming the closure of individual CABs on local government decisions, but those decisions are often taken in the light of extreme uncertainty about the future of other funding streams. His Government admits that there is much cause for concern, so why has he not sought an immediate moratorium on all cuts to Government funding streams for advice services for the coming financial year in order to allow time for a longer-term strategy to be developed?

I am very surprised that the hon. Lady did not mention the £27 million that the Government announced last month for face-to-face debt advice. That has been strongly welcomed by citizens advice bureaux across the country, and I would have thought that she would have given us credit.

The CABs in Goole and Scunthorpe provide excellent advice to my constituents on debt-related issues. While I welcome the money that has been announced, is it not time that we tried to achieve a national approach? CABs have a battle, year in, year out, to secure funding, which clearly does not help our constituents.

As I said in my initial response, we are working across government with other Ministers to make sure that we co-ordinate national efforts. We will soon respond to the call for evidence on personal consumer credit and personal insolvency, which will deal with issues such as debt advice.