A CAMPAIGN to maintain funding for ‘essential’ face-to-face debt advice services has been backed by Bury Council.

The council has supported calls by Advice UK, the Institute of Money Advisers, the Unite Debt Advice Network and Greater Manchester Money Advice Group among others for the Government to extend funding for 12 months for existing services to enable them to plan properly, retain staff and scrap a government procurement process entirely.

Campaigners say face-to-face debt advice will be slashed by more than 50 per cent in favour of remote services which they claim ‘are not appropriate or accessible for everyone’.

They allege the north is set to lose £3m in funding for face-to-face services.

Following a backlash, the procurement process for new services has been paused, with existing services such as those provided by Citizens Advice, given a six-month extension,

Campaigners say no guarantees have been given about protecting face-to-face services or re-balancing the funding.

Bury councillors last week debated a Labour motion on the subject.

The motion noted the procurement process that was being undertaken by the Government’s Money and Pensions Service to commission debt advice services beyond April 2022 and the switch in emphasis so that two thirds of future funding would be directed to remote telephone and webchat advice services and the proposed cut of 50-60 per cent of face-to-face debt advice.

Proposing the motion, Cllr Martin Hayes, said: “There is a very real threat to people in Bury if government cuts to face to face debt advice go ahead. Citizens Advice Bury and Bolton dealt with more than 4,000 debt inquiries in 2021.

“Just today Citizens Advice said nationally they were handling one enquiry about fuel poverty every 40 seconds.

“Yet the government is planning a switch from face to face advice to a predominantly online or telephone advice service.

“Contracts will no doubt end up with the government’s favourite companies.

“The effect will be cuts to locally based face to face services such as Citizens Advice.

“The plans will also lead to a postcode lottery with the north of England losing £3m while the south, surprise surprise, will get an increase of about the same amount.

“Remote services are inaccessible to the most vulnerable.”

The Conservative group on Bury council opposed the motion.

Cllr Luis McBriar said: “The Labour group fail to mention anywhere in their motion the increased funding which debt advice services have received from this Conservative government.

“They agreed to maintain record levels of funding for free to consumer debt advice in England for 2021/22 bringing the debt advice budget to £94m.

“We live in a modern age where many people prefer the ease of online and telephone appointments. This can’t be ignored when it comes to debt advice.

“Throughout the pandemic many people in the borough of Bury have adapted to online working, appointments and socialising. We must adapt our services.

“To scrap this would drag us back to the past and not acknowledge we live in a digital age. Those who are vulnerable or elderly may not have the wish or means to do this.

“That is why the government have committed to the continuation of face to face services which can be tailored to the individual.

“To scrap the procurement exercise completely would negatively impact the service.”

High profile backing for the campaign in Bury and Bolton also this week from Labour’s Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeve.

On a visit to Bury, she said: “I know as a constituency MP and also as Shadow Chancellor how important it is that everyone has access when they need it to those services.

“I hope that the government thinks again in ensuring that people have access to these essential services.”

The motion, which call for a scrapping of the procurement exercise for revised services, was passed with the support of Labour, Liberal Democrat and independent councillors. Conservative councillors voted against the motion.