Ripon's Citizen's Advice Bureau office at risk of closure

Staff and trustees at Citizens Advice Bureau on Allhallowgate, Ripon, celebrate the bureau's 75th anniversary in 2014.
Staff and trustees at Citizens Advice Bureau on Allhallowgate, Ripon, celebrate the bureau's 75th anniversary in 2014.

The Citizens Advice Bureau's office in Ripon could close next month following a reduction in grant funding from Harrogate Borough Council.

As a result it is likely that the office, which is currently based at Sharow View in Allhallowgate, will move Harrogate and a reduced service will run out of borrowed premises in the the city.

It comes after the Craven and Harrogate District Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), which includes Ripon, received £55,000 less than the applied for amount from the council's community grant scheme as a result of the authority being oversubscribed for funding applications.

Dr Anita Roy, volunteer representative to the Citizens Advice Craven and Harrogate Board, said: "It is unfortunate that this reduction in funding happens when we were having to move our Ripon premises because of health and safety concerns about our current building at Sharow View.

"Plans were under way to move next door to Community House. This move is now deemed too expensive, but we would still like to be in a central location with our own front door, giving us an accessible base for clients and staff."

A decision on the future of the Ripon service, which has 21 volunteers and four staff, is expected to be made at the next meeting of the district's CAB on February 22.

Dr Roy said: "We will continue to have some sort of service in Ripon but we the volunteers think it will be a great shame if we don't have our own base.

"It will be a reduced service in some sort of premises where people can drop in. We currently have three drop-in services a week on a Monday, Thursday and Friday, and this could be reduced to one or two..

"It has not actually been decided yet, but when you look at the two things coming together of losing really cheap accommodation and what is effectively a reduced grant from Harrogate Borough Council, the necessity to do something is quite obvious and unfortunately this is likely to mean shutting the Ripon office."

The district's CAB has received around £114,000 consistently over a number of years. The group was recently notified that its funding term was coming to an end, however due to more voluntary and community organisations than ever bidding for a slice of the £174,500 pot of funding, the CAB was awarded 38 per cent less than previous years.

Dr Roy said: " We did know that the amount might differ but it was quite a shock to realise we have got less funding than we had in the past.

"We have lost a few services to Harrogate, including the tax office and the job centre, and this seems to be following in that fashion. We will still have a service, it's just we may not have a base."

Councillor Richard Cooper, leader of Harrogate Borough Council, said: the authority was pleased to be able to support the CAB and the "valuable service" it provides.

However, the council only had a limited amount of funding available for voluntary and community organisations through the Strategic Grant Fund.

He said: “Over the last four years we have been able to provide the CAB with six-figure funding to support the good work that they do.

"This year, we had more organisations applying for funding than ever before and their applications for funding far exceeded the money available. After careful consideration eight groups were awarded grants totalling £174,500, with the CAB being awarded £70,000 – 40 per cent of the overall pot and by far the largest grant allocation.

“The only way we could increase the funding for the CAB, would be to reduce the amount that has been awarded to the other organisations. We do not believe that would be fair as they also provide an essential service across the whole community and it is the council’s responsibility to support them so that they can continue their excellent work.”

Ripon’s CAB has been operational for nearly five decades having opened in 1967 to serve people in the Ripon, Boroughbridge and Masham areas.

It moved to its current home at Sharow View in April 2012 after being based on Duck Hill from 1996.

Most of the advice given at the CAB is from volunteers who are well trained and under the supervision of paid staff.

Dr Roy said: "We give our time freely because we know there is a great need for advice around debt, benefits, employment, housing, divorce and other problems of the current day. Our advice is free, confidential and impartial. Many of our clients are disabled or vulnerable in some way.

"We have a dedicated team in Ripon who want to serve our local population directly rather than offering a reduced service out of potentially borrowed premises. We hope that a way will be found so that we may continue to do that."

Anyone who thinks they might be able to help should contact the Ripon office on 01765 643466.