by Rory Mair CBE, Chair of Citizens Advice Scotland.
This column first appeared in the Herald on 2 September 2020.
As Chair of Citizens Advice Scotland I have the privilege of seeing the incredible work done by the Citizens Advice network the length and breadth of the country.
What people may not always realise is we aren’t a head office but an umbrella organisation supporting bureaux, each of which is their own individual charity.
The first Citizens Advice Bureaux in Glasgow opened in the shadow of the Second World War in 1939. In those early days CABs helped families with ration books and finding lost relatives who had been evacuated. As the decades passed other issues came to the fore, like social security, housing, employment and debt.
This week 5 of the 8 bureaux in Glasgow face closure due to funding reductions from Glasgow City Council. The east end of the city would lose the three CABs which currently service it. Castlemilk would have no free advice provision and the city centre CAB would go. Moreover the three CABs who would survive would have their services significantly reduced.
In Glasgow, as across the country, the work of CABs has always been vital. They help people through free, confidential and impartial advice to exercise their rights as citizens. Each year they unlock millions in financial gains for people, through accessing benefits, with-held wages, consumer savings and compensation. That money then finds its way back into local communities as people have their spending power increased and personal finances secured.
During lockdown the CABs have not missed a beat, quickly transitioning to remote working to give people advice by phone and online when face to face advice was not an option.
The figures speak for themselves – almost 9,000 Glaswegians helped during lockdown alone, with over £6 million in financial gains.
CABs are rooted in their communities, with the goal of helping people and campaigning for social change. But they also offer employment and volunteering opportunities for local people. Around half of our volunteers go on to paid employment or further education.
Only last week we saw an impressive example of this, when a former volunteer at a Glasgow CAB launched a website aimed at helping people from low-income backgrounds like herself gain access to legal training. She says the CAB gave her great experience and confidence, and she is just one example of how the CAB network does so much more than what it says on the tin.
Closing CABs in the city would see these opportunities lost and this help gone when they are needed more than ever.
I recognise and understand the enormous challenges that Glasgow City Council faces. Governing, in this sense, is about making real choices and these are increasingly difficult for our civic leaders, especially with the once in a lifetime impact of Covid 19 on our economy, public services and general way of life.
It appears in this instance the Council received more applications for funding than there is money available. That’s hardly surprising given the times we live in and the growing demand third sector organisations are seeing on their services.
But as Chair of Citizens Advice Scotland it’s my job to advocate on behalf of the Citizens Advice Bureaux in the city, and it is clear to me that Glasgow would be significantly worse off if bureaux have to close in the coming weeks.
For every £1 spent in funding the Glasgow CABs, they deliver £13 back. A good example of this is homelessness. Councils have a legal duty to house people who are made homeless in temporary accommodation. That is extremely expensive to the public purse.
Every week the Glasgow CABs deal with cases where people are facing eviction, and very often they manage to head off that calamity by finding additional income for the client or by negotiating with the landlord or mortgage company for a more sustainable payment plan. Every time they do this, they save the Council thousands - perhaps tens of thousands of pounds.
Since the proposed cuts were announced on Friday, the Glasgow CABs have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from across the city - they have asked me to use this column to thank those people. An online petition against the closures has gathered thousands of signatures in just 4 days.
I’m sure councillors too have heard the shock of the city’s residents and I know that no one in Glasgow wants to see these cuts and closures happen, as the case against them is so clear and the work our bureaux do is so valuable.
I’m ever hopeful, even at this late stage, that a solution can still be found to ensure Glasgow is still served by these bureaux, just when their help will be needed the most.