by Robert Armour
AN eleventh hour reprieve has saved five Citizens Advice Bureaux from closure.
The move followed a public fall out between Glasgow Citizens Advice Bureaux and Glasgow City Council over the funding for the advice centres.
Earlier this week, Citizens Advice Scotland announced it would be forced to close Easterhouse, Pollok, Castlemilk, Parkhead and Bridgeton bureaux because they had no guarantee of funding beyond the end of the month.
However, leaders in Glasgow City Council disputed this claim, suggesting the service was over-reacting.
It was not until Tuesday night that the bureaux were given a formal three-year funding offer that would enable them to continue to provide essential welfare advice to the residents of Scotland’s biggest city.
The dispute stems from the council’s decision to put all its advice contracts out to tender last year.
It awarded the contract to a third party, Glasgow Advice Agency (GAA), a consortium of law centres and money advice services.
It was then expected that these five CAB offices would be funded through subcontracts to GAA.
But, until earlier this week no firm offer had been made.
Critics argued that the whole tendering process had pitted charities against charities and was putting essential services for vulnerable residents at risk.
Council leader Gordon Matheson this week said that there was no need for Citizens Advice Scotland to threaten the closures of the five branches, as he claimed there was always “guaranteed funding”.
He said: “The CABs were made a firm offer at the weekend which will secure their funding for the next year and ensure that no bureaux have to close.
“It is exceptionally disappointing that Citizens Advice Scotland has chosen to take this decision when it knows perfectly well there will be no need to close.”
After receiving the formal letter of intent, however, a CAS spokesman said it would still have to consider the details and get legal advice before accepting the offer.
“The fact we now have a formal legal document is a real step forward – as is the fact that they are now talking about a three-year proposal, not just one year. These are two very significant new developments,” he said.
“However, some concerns remain. This is not yet an actual contract, the funding being offered still represents a significant year-on-year cut, and the terms and conditions need to be clarified to ensure that they would not prevent the CABs from operating in ways which would meet the high standards required of the CAB service.
“It has taken GAA months to come forward with this formal offer.
“The CABs will need to take a measured period of time to consider it.”
Green MSP for Glasgow Patrick Harvie also criticised the way the council handled the whole tendering process.
He said: “What an absolute shambles they [the bureaux] have had to endure thanks to the city council. Forcing voluntary groups to compete to provide a vital, free public service was a ludicrous idea to begin with.
“Officials seem to be washing their hands of it, which is appalling behaviour.
“I have raised the matter in Parliament and will be calling on the Scottish Government to find a way to help the staff and protect their clients.”