Campaigners voice fury over Leeds CAB offices axe plan

Ruth Baumberg who has previously campaigned against the closure of the Citizens Advice Bureau in outlying areas of Leeds.
Ruth Baumberg who has previously campaigned against the closure of the Citizens Advice Bureau in outlying areas of Leeds.
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Campaigners in Otley say residents have been “abandoned” by proposals to close a lifeline advice centre in the town.

Their anger follows a committee meeting of Leeds City Council’s internal scrutiny board for resources and council services, which looked at what led to the plan to axe satellite Citizens’ Advice Bureaux (CAB) in Pudsey, Otley, Cross Gates and Morley.

The proposals are part of a major revamp of the Leeds CAB network, to increase telephone access and bring face-to-face sessions into the main city centre branch, with appointment-only ‘outreach’ venues in the four towns.

Steve Carey, chief officer of Leeds Revenue and Benefits Service, told the committee Leeds CAB’s new phone service would go from answering 8,000 calls out of 40,000 a year to 30-35,000.

He said: “There was a need to see advice improved across the city and also to see that modernised.”

But critics say losing the face-to-face drop-in sessions in communities will affect the city’s most vulnerable and have criticised the level of consultation carried out.

Coun Les Carter (Cons, Adel & Wharfedale) said there seemed to have been a “massive lack of consultation” after the committee heard none of the affected wards were mentioned in two reports presented to the executive board.

Coun Barry Anderson (Cons, Adel & Wharfedale) asked: “Why was there never any formal consultation with the Outer North West Area community committee?”

Steve Carey, chief officer of Leeds Revenue and Benefits Service, said operational decisions, such as to replace drop-in with outreach, were those of Leeds CAB and that said he had spoken ward councillors but added: “I now realise in hindsight it would have been at least courtsey to go to the Outer North West Community Committte on that.”

Speaking after the meeting, Otley Coun Sandy Lay (Lib Dem) said the council was “abandoning” residents outside the city.

“They are expecting residents from outer parts to trundle into the city centre.”

He said Otley CAB is currently open five half-days a week but it is unclear how many of the new appointment-only sessions there will be under the plans.

He added: “Otley CAB does 13 per cent of the work of Leeds CAB. Without having an outreach service in place to replace CAB is just madness.”

Sandy Goulding, a former volunteer in Otley, said the contract with Leeds CAB “did not have the benefit of any proper consultation and as a result the advice services will in April 2015 be left in an absolute shambles”.

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