Campaign to save ‘lifeline’ Leeds centres

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A CAMPAIGN to save four lifeline advice centres in Leeds from closure in the wake of funding cuts is gathering pace.

Leeds City Council has recently announced plans to slash its annual £1.65m budget for the city’s Citizens’ Advice Bureaux by £165,000.

The authority insists it has protected the vital service - which provides free advice on debt, housing, benefits, consumer issues and other matters to some of the city’s most vulnerable people - for four years.

But it claims it has been forced to cut its budget for the centres by 10 per cent because of wider funding cuts.

Four satellite CAB offices in Pudsey, Otley, Cross Gates and Morley all face the chop with 40 staff across the city expected to lose their jobs, and many volunteers having to give up their advice sessions.

The council plans to increase telephone services and bring weekly face-to-face sessions to the main city centre branch and to a select number of ‘outpost’ venues rather than permanent offices.

But campaigners claim permanent local offices are vital for vulnerable people who may not be able to benefit from phone services or visit the city centre branch.

Ruth Baumberg, 74, has been a volunteer at Pudsey CAB for 14 years.

She told the YEP: “Face to face is the service we are anxious to preserve.

“We have been asked to do more for less.

“It’s cheaper to use phone gateways, which are measured by number of contacts.

“We are dealing with more people but just not in as much depth.

“It’s fine if you have a computer, but not for the many people who don’t.

“We have a lot of clients who have trouble reading or even if they do, they don’t understand the documents, they need detailed explanation.”

She said people with mental health problems, the elderly and people in severe financial crisis form a big part of the client list.

And she warned the service is expected to get busier in the coming weeks, as people’s post-Christmas credit card statements come in.

Councillor Sandy Lay (Lib Dem, Otley and Yeadon) asked at a recent authority meeting why funding for “a lifeline to the poor needing help and the frail” was being cut.

Leader of Leeds City Council Keith Wakefield stressed that CAB funding had been protected since 2010, and that even after the cuts, “if anybody needs face to face or phone contact, that service will still be provided”. He added there was only high demand “because there is an onslaught by the Government on welfare benefits”.

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