Hundreds of people have rushed to the support of the citizens’ advice service, signing a petition urging Highland Council not to slash its funding.
As revealed by the Press and Journal on Monday, the region’s busiest branch – Inverness, Badenoch and Strathspey – faces the loss of almost a quarter of its total £1million funding due to cuts in grants from the council and the Scottish Government.
It describes the timing as “the worst possible,” amid record demand for its advice centres that offer help to people with debt, housing and benefit problems.
Within 24 hours, more than 300 people had last night signed the online petition.
“The Academy Street, Raigmore Hospital and Aviemore bureaux will all be seriously affected by the proposed cuts,” it stated.
Branch manager Alasdair Christie, who is also leader of the council’s opposition Liberal Democrat group, said: “As a result of the story the P&J broke on Monday, we had a lot of phone calls offering support. We’re overwhelmed.”
With the expected expiry of government grants for specific projects, the bureau is budgeting for a “worst scenario” reduction totalling £225,000 and the loss of nine staff.
The council is expected to cut its £1.2million annual funding by £65,000 from April.
Its budget leader Bill Fernie said the grant reduction was agreed in 2014 to take effect in 2018-19 but had been brought forward.
He emphasised that, while having to balance its own books, the council had shed five of its own money advice personnel in order to maintain funding to the citizens advice service.
The Scottish Government provides money for the Scottish Legal Aid Board (Slab) and directly to Citizens Advice Scotland in Edinburgh which disperses grants to various organisations including housing charities.
A financial update from the Scottish Government is imminent.
Among those backing the petition, Kelly Paterson from Inverness said: “Reducing or removing such service would increase the crisis of social living today which is already in a terrible situation.”