A vital advice service in Huddersfield faces being devastated by huge budget cuts.

Now volunteers at Huddersfield’s Citizens Advice Bureau are calling for public support amid fears it is set to lose half its funding.

Volunteer Peter Millen said: “People come to the CAB when they’ve nowhere else to go. Once we’ve been cut and our professional colleagues are gone who can they turn to for help?

“The crazy thing is that the council’s own figures show that our organisation, including KBAS the Benefits Advice specialists, saves Kirklees £32m per year.”

The 11 volunteers who contacted the Examiner with their deep concerns have combined experience of 60 years.

Mark Lacey, Chief Executive of the Kirklees Advice and Law Centre which delivers the CAB service, said: “We have been aware for some months that the council plan to cut funding for advice by 50% from April 1.

“This is a direct consequence of the financial crash in 2008.

Kirklees Council has done a fantastic job in maintaining funding levels up to this point and this has allowed us to continue delivering the service to an ever increasing number of people in need across Kirklees.

“However, the proposed 50% reduction in council funding represents a massive challenge.

Citizens Advice Bureau volunteer Peter Millen
Citizens Advice Bureau volunteer Peter Millen
 

“We have to choose between cutting back opening hours on the existing service or re-designing the service to enable us to help more people with less funding.

“We have decided to re-design the service in line with Kirklees Council’s policy of “digital by default”.

“This government policy is also supported by Citizens Advice nationally and they are investing heavily in improving telephone and online services which will benefit our clients.”

It will mean waiting rooms will have internet facilities where volunteers will help clients access information online.

Those who need more help can speak to an advisor on the phone with face-to-face meetings available.

Mr Lacey added: “We also hope to continue providing outreach services – these are funded separately and their future is uncertain.

“Of course change frightens people and we know that we have to do more work to convince everyone that after 75 years of face-to-face advice, it is time to try a new approach.”

The new service will launch in Huddersfield in the new year with feedback from staff and volunteers helping shape it.

The volunteers, however, hope to persuade councillors not to make drastic cuts.

Mr Millen added: “The volunteers’ message to the public is that they have time to stop this. Councillors need to know that people don’t want them to support these cuts and will vote against them if they do.”

Kirklees has to make cuts of £69m in the next three years and the volunteers argue that with £89m in reserves and £32m in balances there is money available.

The volunteers’ letter adds: “We believe the Cabinet and council officers are keeping it all safe for a rainy day. It already looks pretty wet to us.”

Councillors will debate the budget in December with a final decision in February.

Kirklees Council Assistant Director Jane Brady said: “As part of the budget setting process the council has examined every aspect of service offered or provided through partners such as Citizens Advice Bureau. A proposal to cut the funding for the advice contract, currently delivered by the CAB consortium, is included in the budget consultation survey which is currently being carried out. However, we are also looking at alternative ways of delivering a modern advice service with all our partners. Any decision will be made as part of the Council’s budget setting process and after the consultation is complete. The budget consultation can be completed at: www.kirklees.gov.uk/budget2015 .”