The future of Wrexham’s Citizens Advice service hangs in the balance – but there is still time to save it.
This saga began three years ago when, in the secret ‘Part II’ section of a council executive meeting, a decision was made to phase out funding to Citizens Advice Wrexham. No-one other than the Citizens Advice office and councillors had notice of this.
My office, which provides advice to Wrexham residents and has a close working relationship with the Citizens Advice service, had no chance to say what we thought its impact would be and neither did the public.
A couple of months ago, I told local Department of Work and Pensions staff that the Citizens Advice office was likely to close this summer. This was news to them.
When I found out that this decision had been made, I traced the minutes of the meeting. The nominal reason for the secrecy was that it was necessary for the privacy of the employees of the Citizens Advice office. Not only is this nonsense, as an employer affected like the Citizens Advice service would have to notify staff, it is wrong in principle for a public body to make a decision on how it is using public money without telling the public.
In addition, it was suggested to me that there was to be a commercial tender for advice services in Wrexham and it was commercially confidential how much the tender would be. In fact, no such commercial tender has ever taken place. The leader of the council suggests that the Citizens Advice service has had ‘plenty of time’ to find funds from elsewhere.
The reality is that Wrexham is now the only council in Wales which cannot find money to help fund a Citizens Advice service for its residents.
Attempts have been made to raise this issue with the Executive Board which runs the council. They refuse to talk about it.
The Executive Board is made up of 10 councillors. Most of those councillors were elected as ‘Independents’ in 2017. They then joined two different ‘Independent’ groups last year, both of which allied with the Conservatives to form an Executive Board, with members selected from their respective groups to run Wrexham.
Neither the ‘Independents’ nor the ‘Wrexham Independents’ said what they would do as a group before last year’s election.
I do not believe any of them told the people who voted for them they would close Wrexham’s Citizens Advice office.
So, do you know what group your own councillor is in? Do you know how he or she stands on taking money away from the Citizens Advice service?
There is now a motion which will go before the full council on Wednesday (May 23) when each councillor will have a recorded vote on whether to save the service. That’s what democracy is about - people making decisions and being held accountable for them.
Please ask your councillor to cast their vote to save our Citizens Advice service.