Thursday, April 18, 2024

Fight to save our local Citizens Advice Bureau

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Pakuranga Citizens Advice Bureau manager Louise Boswell, left, and board chair Sue McKinnon. Times photo Chris Harrowell

Auckland Council’s ongoing effort to reduce debt may lead to cuts in the funding received by the local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).

The organisation provides a free service that helps people understand “what their rights are and how to access services they need”.

East Auckland is serviced by two bureaux in Pakuranga and Botany.

Mayor Wayne Brown has said he wants to significantly reduce council spending to plug a budget deficit of more than $250 million.

Written staff advice provided to Brown to support his proposed mayoral budget outlines a $20m cost reduction from 2023-2024 across a range of regional services.

Some or all of a range of activities are proposed to be “reduced, stopped or alternative funding sources found to a total of $20m”.

One of the five social activities listed is the Citizens Advice Bureau.

But Howick ward councillors Sharon Stewart and Maurice Williamson say the CAB provides an “incredibly valuable service”.

“Cutting their funding makes no sense when there are many much larger cost areas where spending has exploded and should be easy to rein-in and make meaningful savings.

“Both of us will insist any of the needed cuts come from the big wasteful spending line items and not from organisations that provide an amazingly valuable service to the community.”

A petition opposing the funding cuts has been signed by more than 3450 people as of February 13.

Louise Boswell manages the two local CABs, in Pakuranga and Botany, and Sue McKinnon chairs their board.

They’re both extremely concerned at the prospect of the service’s funding being cut or stopped altogether.

“We don’t seem to be deemed a vital service by council,” Boswell says. “That surprises me.”

She says about 400 people contacted the Pakuranga bureau for help in November last year and that’s roughly how many people it helped in each of the months prior.

In 2019, the 32 bureaux across Auckland had client interactions with more than 157,000 people.

Boswell says the two local bureaux have four paid staff and about 51 volunteers.

In the worst-case scenario, if they were to close, she expects clients would go to the library for help instead.

“They could go there to get a Justice of the Peace to sign a document.

“We host clinics here as well and we have counsellors and legal and immigration advisors.

“One of our top categories is ‘legal and Government’ and we’re dealing with people having problems with Government departments.

“Not one of those Government organisations funds us but we are constantly having inquiries about whatever their policies are.”

McKinnon says the council strongly supports residents maintaining healthy relationships as they’re good for mental well-being and if the CABs closed, many people would be adversely affected.

“If we disappeared, which is the worst-case scenario, [it would be harmful as] we actively do counselling here and just listen to people.

“A lot of people might sort their own problems out, or there’s something we can tell them that they don’t know about that takes the stress away.

“They’re reassured that someone’s listened and they’ve got a plan.”

The council’s draft budget will soon go out for public consultation and is set to be voted on in June.

To sign the petition, go online to https://our.actionstation.org.nz/ and search for ‘Save Auckland CABs!’.

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