By a Newsnet reporter
SNP MSPs are calling on Glasgow City Council to reconsider changes to support services which mean five Citizen Advice Bureaux (CAB) will close as a result of reduced funding.
The centres, sited in some of Glasgow’s poorest areas, provide a valuable service to local residents with debt, housing or benefits problems.
The CAB offices in Bridgeton, Castlemilk, Easterhouse, Greater Pollok and Parkhead have initiated closure proceedings as funding will expire after March 31, 2012. The services lost their funding in a controversial tendering process run by the Glasgow Advice Agency consortium set up by the Labour controlled local authority.
The city council put its advice contracts out to tender last year in four lots, ending with the total being split between the two groups. The authority said the intention was to allow smooth transition of services through subcontracts with no need for redundancies.
Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) said it had been unable to secure work from GAA and said that the closures were a direct result of Glasgow City Council tendering its funding rather than awarding it directly to CAS local offices as had been the previous practice. A spokesperson for CAS said that the process “effectively set charities and advice groups against each other”.
The closures will occur despite a previous commitment by Glasgow Council that tendering of advice services would not lead to Citizens Advice Bureaux being shut down.
CAS acting chief executive Susan McPhee said: “This is a really shocking situation, and we are deeply disappointed that the people of Glasgow will lose so much expert advice just when they need it most.
“The recession has really battered the city, and things have been made worse by the government’s public spending cuts and welfare reforms.
“As a result many Glasgow families are really struggling, demand for Citizens Advice has never been higher and staff at all of these offices have never been busier. We are sure that Glaswegians will be as shocked as we are by these closures.”
However, a spokesperson for Glasgow City Council council claimed there was “no need” for any of the citizens advice bureaux to close and said that the decision to initiate closure procedures was made by CAS.
The spokesman added: “We are working with both parties to find a solution. 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.”
Leader of the Green party, Glasgow MSP Patrick Harvie, said: “What an absolute shambles they 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.”
SNP MSP for Glasgow Cathcart, James Dornan, agreed, saying:
“It is deeply disappointing that these well-known and well-respected organisations, that provide a vital service to communities across the city, are to close.
“I know many MSPs and councillors are angry at the lack of support given to CABs from the city council and I will work with those across the political spectrum to offer any assistance I can to ensure these vital services are protected.”
SNP MSP for Glasgow, Humza Yousaf said:
“In a time of difficult financial circumstances, we are more in need of our Citizen Advice Bureaus than ever before. They play a vital role in the heart of our communities and provide a lifeline to families trying to cope in this time of financial uncertainty.
“Glasgow City Council gave an assurance that the tendering of advice services would not lead to closure of CABs – this is a broken promise which will devastate the lives of many Glaswegians across the city.”
SNP MSP for Glasgow Shettleston, John Mason, said:
“I am urging the city council to reconsider its changes to support services as we simply cannot stand idly by and allow these CABs to close.
“Reducing or removing these services would be devastating. The people of Glasgow deserve better than this. They deserve, and they need, these vital services.
“The city council should rethink its position to also protect the jobs that are at risk.”