The Head of Community Development and Leisure presented the above report, previously circulated to Members. The purpose of the report was to seek Members’ approval to extend funding allocations to current Advice Providers for the first three months of the 2019/20 financial year based on the allocations provided for 2018/19; to seek Members’ approval to advertise for one Trial Provider during the 2019/20 year and to seek Members’ approval for the updated Advice Strategy for 2018-21.
Councillor McGinley paid tribute to current providers of advice services in the area during these challenging times. He expressed his endorsement of the report and welcomed the advertisement for a trial provider for a six month period as he felt this would give prospective service providers an excellent opportunity to gain enough experience to reach the required standard to be considered for the 3 year Commissioning Agreement in April 2020.
Councillor Tierney welcomed the report and the support that a new provider would bring given the mounting pressure on the 3 current providers. He highlighted the level of support which would need to be provided to a trial provider to ensure they reach the required standard.
In response to requests from Councillor Tierney, the Head of Community Development and Leisure clarified that a public advertisement would be placed for commencement of a trial Service provider for a six month period during which Council Officers would provide continued support and advice under the new Advice Pro system due to the CARMA system being found to be prohibitive. He confirmed that if the required Bronze Award standard was reached the trial provider would be considered for a 3 year Commissioning agreement on completion of the trial period.
Councillor Gallagher suggested that focus should be redirected to opposing cuts to benefits such as PIP and DLA so that the need for advice services could be decreased.
Councillor Tierney reiterated the need for these services and questioned the time-line for the introduction of a trial service provider. He questioned if there would be a gap in service provided between the trial period and 3 year commissioning agreement.
The Head of Community Development and Leisure confirmed that he expected the trial service provider to have commenced work by 1 September 2019 with commencement of the new Commissioning Agreement around February 2020. He stated that he felt this 4/5 months was adequate for the provider to have built up sufficient evidence to bid for the Commissioning Agreement.
Alderman McClintock welcomed the report and stated that although the issue of benefits cuts needed to be politicised, the issues of support still needed to be addressed as soon as possible.
Councillor Donnelly urged Council to be proactive in contacting advice groups which have no affiliation with Council in relation to this opportunity. He also raised issues surrounding vulnerable persons who had been taken advantage of by persons who advertise on social media for the filling in of benefit forms and charge extortionate prices.
Alderman Hussey concurred with comments by Councillor Donnelly surrounding charges for form filling. He also highlighted the need for continuity of service between the trial advice service period and the 3 year commissioning agreement.
In response to questions from Alderman Hussey, the Head of Community Development and Leisure confirmed that if the trial provider secured the Commissioning Agreement, all four advice providers would receive funding from the same allocation of funds from the Department for Communities. He confirmed that the level of funding would be allocated after analysis of the numbers of contacts and clients receiving advice during the trial period.
Recommended That Members (i) approve the allocation of £176,324 to the three advice providers in respect of current Generalist Advice Services Provision for the first three months of the 2019/20 financial year subject to confirmation from the Department for Communities; (ii) approve an allocation of £12,000 towards the total cost for one new Trial Provider and; (iii) approve the updated Advice Strategy for 2018-21.