Community development chief reassures that advice services won’t be ‘binned’

Islington Town Hall. Photograph: Islington Council.

Islington Council’s new executive member with responsibility for community development has moved to reassure top Town Hall scrutineers that she is not looking to “bin” advice services in the borough.

Cllr Una O’Halloran (Lab, Caledonian) had provoked concern when commenting on the level of funding advice received from the council at Islington’s 14 May policy and performance scrutiny committee.

The community development is currently working on a new “system partnership with the voluntary sector,” as part of a preventative approach of its Localities Programme.

Cllr O’Halloran said: “I can see we spend really a lot of money on advice, a huge amount.

“I’m not saying it’s wrong, as there are some good statistics to show what we’ve done with it, but I’m just thinking is it right that we’re spending all that on advice, when we’re talking about helping and empowering people to self-help and be stronger?”

Kevin Turner, economic development manager, added: “Demand on advice services is going up and up. A lot of the advice partners will do outreach so that they are embedded in communities who find it hard to access universal service, so we wouldn’t be advocating cutting that.”

Cllr O’Halloran agreed that there would be “no way” that advice services would see a real-terms cut, with Cllr Rowena Champion (Lab, Barnsbury) clarifying that the “appropriate advice should be delivered by appropriate people, reaching different communities”.

Cllr Osh Gantly (Lab, Highbury East), chair of the health and care scrutiny commission, said: “I am slightly concerned that you’re talking about money spent on advice, and while I do agree it’s always good to review that, I’m mindful that the people who need the advice tend to be the most vulnerable in our community.

“While I’m all for the community helping each other, that’s not always possible. Universal Credit is extremely complex, and I couldn’t go into my neighbour and get advice on it, with the greatest respect. I also might feel a bit uncomfortable talking about it, because it’s very personal, or feel ashamed about debt and facing eviction.

“There are still issues with racism and homophobia that it’s not always possible to deal with in your immediate community, so I’m looking for reassurance that you’re not going to bin all our advice and think it’s a bad thing, because I think it’s a really good thing.”

The council currently funds Citizen’s Advice Islington, the Islington Law Centre, Islington People’s Rights, Help on Your Doorstep and Islington SEND Community Support Service, which all offer free independent advice, support and legal services to residents.

The council offers its own range of housing, money, debt, homelessness and consumer advice, as well as specialist advice for refugees and migrants.