Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Fears for future of local CAB office

There are fears this week that the future of North Down’s Citizens Advice Bureau could be closed “within a month”.

At the time of going to press, a North Down Borough Council committee was holding a crunch meeting discussing changes to funding for the organisation.

Sources fear that the outcome of the meeting, which was to take place yesterday evening, may decide the future of the CAB.

It is believed that anxious advice workers met to discuss the developments on Monday morning.

The CAB is manned by both paid and volunteer staff.

The crux of the crisis is that the bureau would be awarded funding on a monthly basis rather than quarterly which supporters say would jeopardise its ability to meet bills. The changes would also dramatically reduce the number of North Down councillors on the board, effectively transferring control of the local organisation to Belfast.

The North Down CAB, with branches in Bangor and Holywood, is among the busiest in Northern Ireland and helped nearly 8,000 individuals over the course of 2010.

A former employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, has said that despite issues with management, the CAB has continued to provide advice to the community, and has expressed fear that a possible funding cut might lead to the closure of the Bureau.

Another person, who has benefited from the service but who did not wish to be named, said: “It would be absolutely devastating for the people of North Down if this fantastic service was lost.”

Bangor West councillor Tony Hill is a member of the Leisure, Tourism and Community Development Committee which is discussing the changes suggested by the Belfast headquarters.

He said he could not comment on the upcoming meeting because of confidentiality, but said: “At this point, it’s not about the bureau closing down.”

Councillor Austen Lennon, however, expressed concern about the future of the CAB. He alleged that proposed changes in funding mean “a great threat of North Down closing within a month.”

He said the proposed changes include “placing a recommendation before the councillors to stop the quarterly funding and reduce it to one month's funding, to be reviewed monthly, and to force the North Down CAB to sign a constitution that would effectively abandon the North Down Branch to the Belfast Headquarters’ |mercies.

“The signing of this constitution would strip the council of four places on the CAB board,” he alleged.

“The new constitution contains a conflict of interest clause that would also force two CAB management members to stand down. No other CAB has these rules in its constitution.”

Mr Lennon hopes the committee will refuse the recommendation, and allow the acting manager of the CAB “to speak directly to the councillors before they make a decision”.

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