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A vital independent advice service on Arran has ceased with immediate effect.
The North Ayrshire Citizens Advice Service (NACAS), which was held every Monday morning at the Ormidale Pavilion, will no longer operate. The closure is due to changes in the way in which public advice services are being funded across North Ayrshire.
The Arran outreach service was part of Citizens Advice Scotland – the country’s largest independent advice network providing consumer advice and free and confidential information on benefits, housing, debt and money issues and work related problems.
However, last year North Ayrshire councillors decided to significantly change the way in which public advice services were provided by promoting the the council’s own Money Matters service, and to put a range of other advice services out to competitive tender.
It had been hoped the service would be retained until the end of the current NACAS contract in April, but it has already been withdrawn.
At a recent meeting of the council cabinet, Arran Councillor Timothy Billings said: ‘The result for Arran is that there will no longer be an island-based advice service. Therefore, people who find travel to the mainland difficult will no longer have access to one-to-one advice services. I have been advised that many of the advice issues are not suitable for phone conversations.
And he asked: ‘How will the council ensure that the people of Arran continue to have access to a comprehensive one-to-one advice service, without having to travel to the mainland or rely on phone services?’
In a written response council officials stated: ‘Following the decision to ensure greater transparency, clarity and probity around the specification of advice services in North Ayrshire notice on the current arrangement with NACAS was issued on Monday October 23, while work began on the tender process.
‘This notice confirmed that the termination date would be Monday April 30, and that, in line with the extant Service Level Agreement, current levels of service provision would be maintained until that time.
‘NACAS have advised of their intention to withdraw outreach services from Monday January 1, 2018, with clients being directed to the digital and telephone-based services offered by NACAS. They have also confirmed that specialist debt advice will cease in January 2018 with NACAS looking to wind down the money advice caseload towards Saturday March 31, 2018.’
A spokesperson from NACAS said: ‘It’s no secret that NACAS relies heavily on grants and donations to finance the organisation but we are also operating in a highly competitive environment with ongoing pressures on public funding and restrictions placed on many grants. In line with our current, as well as future, planning we are continuing to diversify our funding streams to secure new and sustainable sources of income.
‘That being said, in order to future proof the organisation, the board of directors have reluctantly decided to cease outreach services from January 2018.’
Nina Smith, NACAS CEO added: ‘Continuation of NACAS without disrupting front line services, is untenable. As a charity, we provide exceptional value for money but we can’t run at a loss and so are restructuring to ensure we remain sustainable.’
Of particular importance to Arran residents it was also noted at the council meeting that tenders submitted for providing advice services would be evaluated taking into account which potential providers would offer outreach services, including to Arran.
People on Arran requiring advice services can make use of the new look website at www.nacasadvice.org.uk or the Better Off North Ayrshire Programme which offers face-to-face services through their hub in the Michael Lynch Centre in Ardrossan with travel expenses paid for Arran residents.
The Better Off North Ayrshire website also offers information, advice and support with completing benefits’ applications, as well as an ‘entitled to’ calculator and job search tool.