Introduction from the Chair, Geoff Palmer
Citizens Advice in Arun and Chichester continued to provide high quality advice to a broad range of clients in 2015-16 through our core advice services and a number of additional services. These include providing guidance on pension options to people nearing retirement as one of the approved providers of the government’s “Pension Wise” service, and pro bono legal advice in Family Law Clinics in Chichester staffed by a network of solicitors which are now being considered for wider rollout. In 2015-16 we provided services to more than 13,400 clients in Arun and Chichester and, while face-to-face advice remains a key part of our service, people are also being helped over the telephone, e-mail, and by our webchat service which recently started up. We expect that webchat will be used by increasing numbers of people in the future, especially by working people and those who would otherwise find it difficult or inconvenient to come to our offices, and is a key part of our future strategy.
Our financial position remains healthy. Our reserves are at target levels and our governance assessments continue to indicate that we are operating at low risk in all areas. We have been taking part in pilots of the new Performance and Quality Framework with Citizens Advice nationally which will increase our overall effectiveness both in the quality of advice which we provide and in our leadership and governance arrangements.
None of this would be possible without funding and support from the local authorities and I would like to thank West Sussex County Council, Arun District Council and Chichester District Council who have continued to provide the core funding for our services despite the severe financial pressures which they are facing. We continue to work in close partnership with the councils and are pleased that they all recognize the key role that Citizens Advice plans through early intervention, helping people to move forward before their situation becomes a crisis. I would also like to thank the Town and Parish Councils for the supplemental funding which they provide as this makes an important addition to the core.
I need to say a huge thank you to all of our staff and volunteers. Our paid staff do a wonderful job and they often go “above and beyond” to enable the service to run efficiently and effectively; and, of course, Citizens Advice simply wouldn’t be possible without the 150+ volunteers who freely give their time and considerable expertise to help local people. I’d also like to thank my fellow trustees, who are also volunteers, for providing strong oversight and support to the Chief Executive Officer and, of course, Carol Groves, our CEO, for all the great work that she does to run the service.
The next couple of years will be ones of considerable challenge. Our core contract runs until 31 March 2018 and funding beyond that is not guaranteed and certainly not at current levels given the swingeing cuts which are being faced by local authorities. Funding is also less readily available for supplemental project work for similar reasons. To overcome these challenges, we will continue to work closely with our partners, the other Citizens Advice organization in West Sussex and the national charity to further modernize our services so that we can continue to demonstrate value for money and clearly articulate the impact that our work is having on the community. We have recently set up a Funding and Strategy group consisting of staff, volunteers and trustees to look at additional ways to raise funding for project work which falls naturally in our scope and will report progress in next year’s Annual Report. In addition, we continue to need to recruit between 40 and 50 volunteers each year to maintain the service. While this might seem a high level of volunteer turnover, this is actually a reflection of our success as around one-third of our volunteers leave to take up employment, having gained relevant skills and qualifications during their time with us.
We are confident that we can overcome these challenges and further develop our services and organization, so that we remain as the first port of call for free, impartial advice for the people of Arun and Chichester.
For further information about our achievements please see Citizens Advice Arun & Chichester Annual Report 2015-16