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Inverness councillor and Liberal Democrat group leader Alasdair Christie claimed zero expenses.
Inverness councillor and Liberal Democrat group leader Alasdair Christie claimed zero expenses.

Don’t cut our funds when people needs us most, says citizens advice boss

The boss of the north’s busiest citizens advice bureau has warned a 20% cut in funding would result in job cuts – just as more and more people need help.

Staff at the Inverness, Badenoch and Strathspey bureau leaked the news of an impending financial crisis, warning it would come at the “worst possible time”.

Record numbers of people are currently coming through the door, seeking help to tackle debt and benefit problems.

But it is feared that if the bureau loses the £225,000 predicted, services – and jobs – would have to go.

Manager Alasdair Christie last night confirmed the imminent expiry of Scottish Government funding for specific projects would cost the branch £160,000 in the forthcoming financial year.

And the loss is likely to be exacerbated by a £65,000 reduction in grants from Highland Council as it slashes its own budget by millions of pounds to balance its own books.

Mr Christie and his colleagues have been discussing their concerns with politicians.

He said: “Any cut at this time is alarming and this amount would be extreme. It would mean fewer people being seen and fewer services being available to help people mitigate the impact of (UK Government) welfare reform and debt.

“If people don’t receive the help they need, their health would be impacted through the mental health pressure and they’d be faced with an inferior quality of life.”

He said the bureau was awaiting confirmation that the government grant was being axed and the precise impact of the council funding cut.

“It’s preparation – the amount involved is significant. We’ve informed the staff.

“If there’s no funding to continue projects there will be a reduction in staffing because we won’t be able to balance the financial equation.”

As things stand, nine full-time equivalent Inverness, Badenoch and Strathspey bureau jobs would go. There are currently 38 full or part-time advisers based in the office.

Mr Christie added: “If we lose these grants it’ll put more pressure on the bureau at a time when it’s busier than ever because of Universal Credit and a rise in debt. It’s the worst possible time for us to lose funding.”

The Scottish Government provides money for the Scottish Legal Aid Board (Slab) and directly to Citizens Advice Scotland in Edinburgh to disperse grants to bureaux and organisations such as housing charities.

Slab is yet to provide an update about the grant situation post-March.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government spokesman said: “Following the publication of the draft budget in December, consideration is currently being given to funding for distribution to

Slab for 2017-18. We expect to make an announcement on this shortly.”