Chief Officers Forum

This week I spent two days near Stratford-upon-Avon at a Chief Officers Forum with a few colleagues from Hampshire.

Proceedings were opened by Gillian Guy. She spoke of current political times and how the unpredictability of the future and the apparent havoc opens the door for Citizens Advice to influence policy makers. It is important how we react in the community, continuing to champion the cause of those that need help the most. On the one service strategy Gillian stressed that we need to finish what we started and deliver more effective services. Universal credit is at a critical stage of rollout. Citizens Advice is seeing a perverse impact, putting people through difficulties unnecessary. Citizens Advice will publish a research report in July that the network can use to influence locally.

A warm welcome ….

Gillian also made the point that people and funders do not understand what we mean by the word “advice”. We do so much more, we have to change perception of who we are. Do we wait for them to come to us? She suggested we need to be more interventionist.

Alistair Cromwell (finance director) talked about our funding outlook. National funding has been steady over the last 5 years at circa £95m. However, collective Local Citizens Advice funding is showing a decrease in the last 3 years. His suggested solutions were; investment in business development, being bid ready, better use of technology, digital investment and working towards a reduce cost base.

Tom MacInnes (data lead) told the conference that Citizens Advice has a strong brand, only bettered by the NHS and the BBC. 70% say Citizens Advice is an important service in the community. Citizens Advice is also smarter at data collection and reporting trends; 4 months ahead of government on data trends and outcomes. So we can tell government the impact of things like UC rollout.

James Plunkett talks about the impact of the Election of Advice Services

Although times are difficult, we are all scrabbling around looking for funding support to deliver core services, there was a positive air of certainty. I talked with a few of the senior Citizens Advice management team and they use to dread coming to Chief Officers Forums; it was a big moaning session — an ”us and them”. Not now. What I also discovered is that Citizens Advice has been actively involved in helping victims/families of the Glenfell Tower disaster along with the Local Citizens Advice in the borough. This was an opportunity to show government how Citizens Advice helps in times of need.

Before attending the forum participants were asked to suggest workshop topics. I suggested pooling resources. Little did I know that I ended up running the workshop. The discussion highlighted just how difficult collaboration can be; one Local Citizens Advice manager admitted that after a hostile merger attempt it is open warfare in her county!! My conclusion from our discussion was that if some like-minded Local Citizens Advice want to try it, get on with it as there will never be a consensus.

It was good to meet with colleagues from around the country and Citizens Advice. I came away feeling a sense of “togetherness” and common purpose. It will be important for Citizens Advice to provide leadership and direction thereby empowering us all to successfully meet the needs of our clients for years to come.

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