Shirebrook centre fight

STAFF and clients at Shirebrook Unemployed Workers Centre are dismayed at having their grant of £33,000 cut by Derbyshire County Council.

The council has taken the decision so it can provide more advice services in other parts of the county. It will mean the loss of two part-time staff and a reduction in the centre’s opening hours.

The Centre, based on Patchwork Row, Shirebrook, helps its clients with advice on social security benefits and tax credits, sometimes representing them at appeal tribunals.

Colin Hampton, co-ordinator at the centre, said staff had brought nearly £2m into the north east Derbyshire economy in unclaimed benefits and tax credits in the last year alone.

Said Colin: “Last year we dealt with 8,000 enquiries. But we are going to lose two part-time workers and will not be able to keep the same opening hours. It is going to have an effect on the extent of the service and its quality because we will need volunteers. I suppose that is what the conservatives mean by the big society.

“It is a bad decision to cut funding for this centre when unemployment is rising.”

Andy Parkes, a welfare rights worker at the centre, said they do not turn anybody away but that may start happening in March or April this year. “We often get people coming to us with debt problems and point them in the right direction. The funding cut is devastating because we know how desperate some people are with the financial situations they find themselves in.”

Mr Parkes said a lot of people liked the idea of having a drop in service but worried their money problems may spiral out of control as clients who could not use the appointment based system would not know which services to access without advice from centre staff.

Added Mr Parkes: “The effect on children and families could be devastating.”

Ann Priest (60), of Chesterfield Road North, Pleasley, said she and husband Bryan (60), received help from staff at the centre when he had to stop work while he had a new ankle fitted.

“We did not know what to do to get his benefits or what he was entitled to. I did not know we could claim disability allowance and the carer’s allowance and would not have gone in for it - I cannot praise them enough.

“They even got us an appointment for a free half hour with a solicitor to talk about insurance problems.”

A Derbyshire County Council spokesman said they had been giving the centre a £33,000 grant for some years but cabinet took the decision at the beginning of the month not to do so this year.

The spokesman added: “It’s been through a scrutiny committee and they upheld cabinet’s decision. The reason for this is that we want to use that money to buy advice services for people across the county and not only in the north east.”

Mr Parkes said staff were collecting signatures for a Save Our Service petition which they planned to present to Derbyshire County Council. The decision will go before a full county council meeting on Wednesday 2nd February.