Less than four years ago, North Ayrshire Citizens Advice Service (NACAS) faced a grim future.
North Ayrshire Council’s then Labour administration had made it clear that they would cut funding to such a level that four out of five bureaux would have been forced to close.
With many local residents struggling with the effects of the recession, including job loss, debt, mortgage troubles and benefit complications, it would have been madness to effectively close NACAS – an organisation people count on to provide free, impartial, professional and effective advice when needing help.
Thankfully, after the SNP took over North Ayrshire Council’s administration, emergency measures were taken to prevent closure and put in place resources to enable NACAS to build a sustainable future. The SNP Government also provided funds to help NACAS provide specific services.
Over its 17 year history, NACAS has certainly earned the trust of local people in North Ayrshire and, for many, is the go-to source for reliable information on any manner of subjects, from consumer rights to advocacy and debt services. Over the last year, NACAS dealt with 13,971 issues across North Ayrshire. Calls received increased by 52%, whilst volunteers and staff help manage £3.05 million worth of client debt and are directly responsible for clients gaining £2.17 million through NACAS intervention; money that stays primarily in the local economy!
Of course, NACAS does not simply wait for individuals to contact them; indeed the service runs a number of workshops and community engagement projects focussed on particular areas of concern. Over the last year, NACAS ran a number of energy saving projects, meeting with hundreds of residents in their own communities to educate them about the options available to them with regards to switching suppliers and reducing energy consumption. 100% of the clients NACAS spoke to thought the service provided was ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ and, cumulatively, NACAS managed to save those they spoke to tens of thousands of pounds in total, whilst also helping to improve the environment through reduced energy consumption.
I was delighted to attend NACAS’ recent AGM and learn that, in the year ahead, NACAS will receive funding to run new projects aimed at helping people understand their pension, how it works, what is taxed and what they can do with their pension pot. On top of this, another new project will help people get back in to work and manage their finances when they find work.
Of course, absolutely none of this would be possible without the hard work and dedication of NACAS staff and volunteers, some 51 of whom were recruited and trained in the last year alone. Their professionalism and devotion to providing the best outcome for clients is truly remarkable and is validated by the figures above.
I was pleased to note that NACAS achieved the coveted Volunteer Friendly Award, presented to organisations that recognise the importance of their volunteer workforce and support them throughout their volunteering journey. This recognition and support for volunteers will ensure that standards remain incredibly high and that many more people will wish to enter NACAS as a volunteer long into the future.
Whilst the staff and volunteers are the public face of NACAS, the Chief Executive, Nina Smith, and the Board Members must also be acclaimed for their hard and innovative work in continually improving and developing services. It is clear that NACAS is on a very firm footing.
With a continually improving and sustainable service now in place, it is unthinkable that NACAS should ever close and I for one am delighted that this incredible service is going from strength to strength and continues to deliver for the people of North Ayrshire.
To volunteer or for advice, go to www.nacasadvice.org.uk