16 April 2008
Hull Citizens Advice Bureau is likely to face closure within months as Hull City Council hands over advice services to a consortium led by millionaire Emma Harrison’s company, A4E.
The company, which is also the UK’s largest Pathways to Work provider, was recently accused of treating claimants like cattle.
Hull CAB will lose its £700,000 a year funding and 60 staff will be made redundant or have to transfer to the private sector if Hull City Council succeeds in its plan to replace the CAB with a Community Legal Advice Centre. The skills of 50 volunteers who work for the CAB will also be lost to the community
CLACs are the new ‘big idea’ in advice provision, doing away with smaller independent centres in favour of large consortiums funded in part by the Community Legal Service. The result is lower costs for public bodies and bigger profits for private sector companies, who are often more experienced and better resourced when it comes to putting together successful bids.
CLS Direct, the national telephone advice service funded by the Community Legal Service was itself formerly run by a consortium of local Citizens Advice Bureaux. However, the contract was handed over to Capita, the company which provides the DWP and local authorities with lie detectors for use on claimants.
A4E also extended its grip on the Pathways to Work market this month, having won the Pathways contract of now bankrupt charity Instant Muscle.
The potential for conflict of interest where the same company has multi-million pound contracts with the DWP but is also supposed to offer advice and support to claimants bringing legal challenges against the DWP seems clear, but of no concern to Hull City Council or the Community Legal Service.
A final decision about the Hull CLAC is expected in May.