Woking Borough Council reject petition to save Neighbourhood Advice Centre

CUTS - Mohammad Ali (right) could not sway the council's decision
CUTS – Mohammad Ali (right) could not sway the council’s decision

A PETITION to overturn the decision to withdraw funding from the Neighbourhood Advice Centre has been thrown out by Woking Borough Council.

More than 700 signatures were presented to the council by Labour candidate Mohammad Ali at the meeting of the full executive on Thursday.

His plea swayed the opinion of a number of councillors who originally opposed the continued funding of a service that provides integration and administrative support to Woking residents – but the proposal to reverse the decision fell short in the vote.

Councillor Mohammed Iqbal was one of those in favour of funding the NAC with the £40,000 required to keep the service alive.

He dismissed claims that the Citizens Advice Bureau offers a similar service which could be as readily accessed by residents.

Cllr Iqbal said: “There is a genuine need for this service in the community. The Citizens Advice Bureau has put on one-day services but this is not sufficient to accommodate the increase in users of the NAC in the past year.”

Figures show 2,500 residents accessed services at the Maybury Centre-based offices in 2011 – a 500 user increase on the previous year.

The centre has been without funding since the original decision to cut support was made late last year and the NAC has since depleted its reserves just to keep the doors open.

And Mr Ali, who is taking the council to High Court over ‘persistent electoral irregularities’ after missing out on a seat in the May elections, estimates funds will only last another ‘two or three months’.

He said: “With no external funding, we were solely reliant on the council. Without their support there is no other way to fund the service. At the moment we’re operating on reduced opening hours and as a group we now have to hope funding can be generated from other sources.

“Our biggest grief with Woking Borough Council is the hazy criteria they provided us with and insisted we meet for funding to continue. We were told we had to achieve charitable status, receive a quality mark and appoint independent trustees to the board – all of which we did.

“We don’t really understand why a 20-year service is now being closed down without so much as a grace period.”

Chief executive Ray Morgan confirmed the council’s decision was final. He said: “The original decision was entirely a matter of discretion – there was not a consensus that value for money was being achieved.

“Members took the view that other groups currently provide similar services in the area which are free of charge where we are having to fund the NAC.”

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About the Author: Andy Fitzsimon