CAB concerns prompt probe by North Norfolk District Council into alternative sources of help for its residents

Steve Cheshire, chief exeuctive of Norfolk CAB. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY.

Steve Cheshire, chief exeuctive of Norfolk CAB. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY. - Credit: Archant © 2013

North Norfolk District Council is to look at alternative sources of help for its residents, following concerns about the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).

The council's cabinet agreed this morning to investigate commissioning services from other bodies - which could include the CAB - to make sure it is getting value for money.

A CAB chief has welcomed the move and claimed a study already under way proved that the charity was 'hugely efficient.'

The council gives Norfolk CAB £51,310 and Mid-Norfolk CAB £15,405 every year to provide residents with free advice.

The former Citizens Advice North Norfolk was controversially merged with Norfolk CAB in November 2012.

As a result, a number of volunteers left the charity and some formed a Citizens' Watch group which claims clients in North Walsham are not given enough time and are often referred to Norwich for advice.

CAB statistics for April to September 2014 show that volunteer numbers in North Walsham were only roughly half the optimum needed, with 12 instead of 21.

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During that period 12 volunteers had left and four had been recruited.

Steve Cheshire, chief executive of Norfolk CAB, said he welcomed the district council investigation and added that it was a route he was encouraging Norfolk County Council to take too.

'They should be clear about where their priorities lie and that they are getting value for money,' said Mr Cheshire.

'As far as our quality of advice goes, it's better than before the merger,' he added. 'People are effectively trained to make sure advice is accurate and appropriate to the individual.'

Mr Cheshire said a CAB Social Return on Investment impact survey under way at present had only looked at a small amount of the charity's work but had already showed that for every £1 invested, the CAB returned £22.90 worth of value.

Councillor Graham Jones told cabinet members that the CAB was a valuable service used by many people and he hoped the investigation would not be a precursor to cutting costs.

Tom FitzPatrick, leader of the council, replied: 'This is not about back door cost cutting. We need to make sure we are getting value for money and it may well be that the investigation shows the CAB is the body to deliver these services.'