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Written Statement - Funding to support front-line advice services from 2014/15

Jeff Cuthbert, Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty

On 15 April 2014, I will be announcing funding of £1 million to support front-line advice services in 2014/15, with indicative allocations of funding, at the same level, for financial years 2015/16 and 2016/17.  

The purpose of this funding is to provide further financial support to independent not-for-profit advice organisations, helping them to continue to provide free and impartial advice to individuals and families in Wales. We know that many of these organisations have had their budgets cut significantly and whilst the Welsh Government cannot offer a blank cheque, this funding, which I am announcing this week, will go some way to ensuring that people have access to the support they need to assist them in making informed choices on welfare benefits, debt and money management, housing and discrimination.

This funding is in addition to the £2.2 million per annum which the Welsh Government is providing to support the Better Advice: Better Lives scheme, being delivered by Citizens Advice Bureaux and the £2.4 million project which is being delivered jointly by Citizens Advice Cymru and Communities First to provide outreach welfare benefits and debt advice in 36 Communities First Clusters across Wales.

This announcement forms part of the Welsh Government’s wider efforts to tackle poverty and inequality and to mitigate the negative impact of Welfare Reform.  I intend to set aside just under a third of this funding to support the development of a specialist discrimination advice service which has a Wales-wide reach and in order to raise the awareness of more generalist advice providers of discrimination issues. This will help ensure that we take action in relation to the Strategic Equality Plan’s first objective which is to “strengthen advice, information and advocacy services to help people with protected characteristics understand and exercise their rights and make informed choices.”  We know that particular groups with protected characteristics are more likely to be living in poverty and subject to the impact of Welfare Reform.

This funding will also help support people who may be struggling with debt or who may need a helping hand to manage their finances more effectively.  We want to support services which will help build the capability of individuals and equip them with the skills and confidence to take greater control over their own affairs.

This announcement follows a period of significant engagement with key stakeholders, particularly those represented on the Independent Advice Providers Forum in Wales.  This Forum comprises representatives from the main umbrella organisations providing advice on a Wales and UK basis.

The grant will open for applications from tomorrow, 15th April.  As part of the application process, eligible organisations will need to demonstrate their commitment to collaborative working, both in terms of how they propose to work in partnership with other advice providers and how they intend to build links with other publicly funded services where there is a shared vision and purpose. We are keen to encourage closer working between advice providers and Credit Unions, for example, especially where this can lead to positive outcomes for clients.  Organisations will also need to show a commitment to quality standards and continuous improvement, and explain how they propose to report on the difference which they are making to people’s lives.

This announcement forms part of the Welsh Government’s response to the Advice Services Review, which published its report in May 2013.  We will continue to engage with stakeholders as we take forward some of the other recommendations arising from the Review, particularly as we consider how best to support an advice sector which will take a more strategic and coordinated approach to the planning and delivery of advice services in Wales.

This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Assembly returns I would be happy to do so.