PLANS to cut Citizens Advice West Berkshire (CAWB) funding by more than 66 per cent could force the service to close, it has been claimed.
If current budget proposals are given the go ahead, CAWB would see its grant funding slashed from £120,000 to just £40,000.
CAWB chief executive Jan Rothwell (pictured) said the charity is still reeling from previous funding reductions, having had to make a number of redundancies and reduce its office size.
And with the charity’s workload expected to increase in the coming months as Universal Credit is rolled out in West Berkshire, Mrs Rothwell said any further funding cuts would make it impossible to continue.
“This is unsustainable,” she said.
“It is simply not viable to run a service helping thousands of local vulnerable people for £40,000 a year, especially at a time when Universal Credit will be extended to our area and national figures show that 28 per cent of claimants will need our help.
“At the current year’s level of funding of £120,000, we are depleting our reserves by £95,000 this year in order to maintain our services to clients.
“We have also invested to save money longer term by reducing the size of our offices and making some staff redundant.
“With a £40,000 grant, our reserves will quickly be exhausted and we would have to prepare for closure by the end of next year in the absence of replacement funding.
“As a local independent charity, we have to raise all the funds that we need within West Berkshire and past experience has shown that this will be extremely difficult to do.
“We urge people to respond to the council’s consultation and make their views known.”
West Berkshire Council, which provides the vast amount of funding to the CAWB, has proposed the two-third funding cut as part of a cost-saving drive to save £10m next year.
Leader of the opposition on West Berkshire Council Lee Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North) said the proposed cuts to what is seen by many as a "vital service" are coming at the worst possible time.
He said: “It feels like a coordinated Tory attack on our residents who need support.
“Universal Credit is a massive change for those residents receiving it and they need as much support as possible to make the change with as little impact as possible.
“If residents get into debt CAWB won’t have the capacity to help them as much if this cut goes through.
“It is completely shortsighted and shows how austerity is reducing our ability to help each other.”
As a partial solution to the CAWB’s funding crisis the council has offered the charity a small space in its Market Street offices.
West Berkshire Council spokeswoman Peta Stoddart-Crompton said: “The council is offering practical support that will help CAWB to significantly reduce its outgoings by giving them a space to work from in their Market Street offices.
“CAWB have requested one space in reception and would have a presence there one day a week.
“This would provide a valuable one stop shop at a central and easily accessible location for CAWB clients requiring housing, benefit, debt or other advice.”
“CAWB’s independence would not be compromised in any way and their presence will be highlighted by appropriate branding.
“The move is entirely customer-focused from both a CAWB and council perspective.
“Providing the best possible support to those in need is paramount for both organisations.”
To have your say on the proposals visit http://info.westberks.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=28602