SOLIHULL MP Julian Knight has raised the threatened future of Solihull’s Citizens Advice services in Parliament following council funding changes.
His Conservative colleagues at Solihull Council axed funding to Citizens Advice Solihull Borough (CASB) after decades of support, as we exclusively revealed last month.
Mr Knight spoke in Prime Minister’s Questions to repeat his call for the council to support the long-standing and respected organisation.
Mr Knight had previously outlined his concerns in a letter to council chiefs while opposition Green, Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors had called for an emergency meeting to discuss the decision.
Talks between CASB bosses and the council are underway but a solution to preserve its services is yet to be decided.
Mr Knight told the Commons: “Citizens Advice in Solihull has been a cornerstone of my community for over four decades.
“So does my right honourable friend share my dismay at a council procurement process which has seen 60 per cent of its funding wiped out overnight, and will he join me on calling on Solihull Council to do everything to ensure the survival of my brilliant, local Citizens Advice?”
David Lidington MP for Aylesbury stood in at PMQs for Prime Minister Theresa May who is in Northern Ireland attempting to agree a compromise with the country’s political parties on her Brexit deal.
In response, Mr Lidington said: “I certainly understand, not least from my own constituency, of the valuable service that Citizens Advice provides in many different parts of the country.
“As my honourable friend knows the funding available through the local government settlement is largely un-ringfenced, and these are decisions that are a matter for elected local authorities to take at their discretion but I am sure that the local authority in Solihull will have heard very clearly my honourable friend’s concerns.”
After its funding was scrapped, CASB’s town centre service at The Core in Theatre Square is expected to be closed by March 31, after an eviction notice was issued at the council-owned premises.
Only a much reduced service at its Chelmsley Wood branch on Bosworth Drive will remain.
CASB supports nearly 6,000 people a year – offering help and advice on matters including debt, benefits, housing and tax.
Citizens Advice is a UK-wide service giving free, confidential legal and practical advice on social and financial issues.
CASB says the decision to wipe out its council funding of more than £200,000 – two thirds of its total income – was taken in the run-up to Christmas when its services were heavily oversubscribed.
The Solihull and Meriden Liberal Democrats have started a petition calling on the council to retain its services which has gained 585 signatures.
Solihull Council insists a new provider, Age UK, will offer an improved service in the place of CASB, which was outbid for the contract.
The council claims the funding changes will streamline advice services and make them more efficient, cutting out duplication from different providers – and will include a new outreach service.
The new services will be on offer at the council’s advice hub in the Core and Chelmsley Wood library.