£86,000 boost for voluntary groups after funding uncertainty

Citizens Advice West (CAWS) will receive more than £46,000 over the next two years from East Cambridgeshire District Council.

Citizens Advice West (CAWS) will receive more than £46,000 over the next two years from East Cambridgeshire District Council. - Credit: CITIZENS ADVICE

Two voluntary groups that have faced uncertainty over their funding have been awarded a share of £86,000.

Over the next two years, Citizens Advice West (CAWS)  - which has 70 volunteers - will receive more than £46,000 while Voluntary and Community Action East Cambridgeshire (VCAEC) gets almost £40,000.

Members agreed the funding following a meeting of East Cambridgeshire District Council's operational services committee - despite its decision last February to axe their annual £47,000 grant to Ely's now-closed Citizen's Advice Bureau.

Recently, East Cambs councillors were briefed by Carol Eagles, of Voluntary Citizens Advice West Suffolk (CAWS), who said the service had offered advice on benefits and tax credits, debts, employment and relationships in the past year.

The CAWS funding, which is part of an ongoing service level agreement with ECDC related to assisted advice, follows a lengthy period of uncertainty for the CAWS team.

The Newmarket branch of Citizens Advice had merged with West Suffolk 18 months ago and, while this led to a bigger workforce, more specialist advice available and the appointment of a trainer, the funding from ECDC and West Suffolk Council were under review.

This, the committee heard, made it "really difficult to run the business" and that all East Cambridgeshire citizens could receive help from any Citizens Advice

Bureau as they all worked together.

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At VCAEC, meanwhile, the funds will support a “one-stop shop” operation to allow them to continue "providing the infrastructure to support voluntary organisations in East Cambridgeshire".

The committee heard that while the level of volunteers was "currently in a state of flux" as many were supporting the NHS, the East Cambridgeshire Support Group consisted of 50 potential, irregular, volunteers.

"This database could be used when resources were needed and this would be promoted to other groups," reads the committee's report.

It adds that memberships of VCAEC consisted of 145 member organisations, which was "close to the pre-COVID figure" and that an exercise would be undertaken to reestablish contact with the remaining groups.

The report says that a website was also being developed to encourage people to apply directly.

Councillor Julia Huffer, chairman of the operational services committee, said: "Both of these organisations have been invaluable to residents over the last 18 months and we know that by providing them with this extra support, they can continue to make a positive impact on the lives of people living here.”

The funding provided is for a two-year service level agreement (SLA) that will be in effect from April 1, 2022 until March 31, 2024.

The SLA for CAWS will cost £46,332 while the SLA for VCAEC will equal £39,530.

Both will be funded from resources in the communities and partnerships budget at East Cambridgeshire District Council.