Advice service future still uncertain

Joe Michna otside the Park Road citizens advice bureau.
Joe Michna otside the Park Road citizens advice bureau.

AN advice service has been forced to slash the number of services available to customers in a bid to maintain a presence in Hartlepool.

The future of the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) was left hanging in the balance after Hartlepool Borough Council funding cuts left it on the brink of closure, as previously reported in the Mail.

For the first time in 73 years, the CAB was not granted any financial assistance by Hartlepool Borough Council.

The trustee board of the CAB, l Turn to Page 5

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which operates from a base in Park Road, held an emergency meeting on Monday to thrash out proposals to keep the service afloat and while it was decided against closing the facility down, several sections will either be stopped or scaled down.

The number of drop-in sessions has been reduced from 10 to six, with none at all available on a Tuesday or Thursday, and that figure could be reduced further if staff struggle to cope with demand.

Bosses had previously decided to stop providing a telephone advice service for residents and also will no longer respond to email enquiries for advice and assistance.

It was also agreed to scrap any Saturday appointments for clients.

Staff at the bureau will also be referring more clients to the West View Advice and Resource Centre, which was successful in winning the council’s tender bid for advice services in Hartlepool.

The situation will be reviewed on a two-monthly basis.

CAB manager Joe Michna said: “The trustee board have been faced with the toughest decision that they have ever had to make, that is whether to close and wind-up the organisation or whether to try and continue to provide some services.

“The trustee board has decided that we shall try in the short-term to provide some services and review our situation on a two-monthly basis.

“Without any core funding these are unchartered waters for us as virtually every CAB in the UK receives some level of core funding from its local authority. However, the trustee board has been hugely encouraged by the level of local public support for the service and it is this public support that has made the difference.

“Clearly we shall now have to refer more clients to the West View Advice Resource Centre as they now have the funding to provide advice five days a week from 9am-5pm as well as a telephone advice service during the same hours.

“We simply do not have the resources now to provide such a level of service.”

Despite the changes, Mr Michna admitted the long-term future of the centre was still uncertain.

He added: “We have been in Hartlepool for 73 years and it is the desire of paid and voluntary staff, the trustee board and of course the general public that we try and maintain some kind of CAB service in the town.

“However, our financial situation is still very precarious and we shall be carrying out a two monthly review of our financial position to see if we can continue to maintain our services.”