Citizens Advice Bureau takes advantage of new technology to help cope with funding cuts
BOLTON’S Citizens Advice Bureau is launching itself into the 21st century — by signing up to “cloud technology”.
The move follows the announcement that the service will also provide advice to people via video conferencing sessions at local libraries and community centres.
Cloud computing enables organisations to securely store and share information online.
The CAB has appointed Manchester company Shaping Cloud to work with them as they move over to the new cloud software.
Using Office 365, staff will have access to shared email, calendars, instant messaging and the social networking service Yammer.
Bolton CAB’s chief officer Richard Wilkinson said: “Moving to the cloud enables us to resolve people’s problems more quickly and effectively and share expertise around the organisation. It has moved our IT along leaps and bounds. It has also significantly increased the security of our systems.”
The CAB is working towards introducing video conferencing sessions in the next few months using software such as Skype. This means Bolton residents will be able to speak face-to-face with an adviser without having to travel into the CAB’s town centre offices in Mawdsley Street.
Mr Wilkinson added: “The new system is the first building block in moving towards video conferencing and is very practical for our organisation.
“For example, when we’re out and about, if the adviser hasn’t got exactly the right skills for a client, he or she can access the right person with that specialism at the office via a laptop or notebook.
“It saves a lot of time and it’s a very cost-effective system — just £3 per employee per month and we have also cut our server and IT maintenance costs.”
These positive moves come during a time of particular change for the CAB, and when they have never been busier dealing with an average 1,500 new inquiries a month — a 32 per cent rise on this period last year. At the same time, cuts mean they have gone from 55 members of staff to 30 — although they are now recruiting again.
A change in Legal Aid Agency rules meant the loss of £600,000 in the money the CAB receives annually, all of which provided a baptism of fire for new chief officer Mr Wilkinson who has been with the CAB for the past 10 years and was previously in Birmingham.
He has had to find alternative revenue sources and has recently won a contract to provide advice via GPs’ surgeries and another through the programme that helps people who are long-term unemployed.
The organisation is often the last line of defence for Bolton’s cash-strapped citizens with debt the main problem.
Mr Wilkinson said: “Debt is now much more complex. Where it used to be confined to credit cards and catalogues, now people have multiple re-mortgages on their property and money borrowed from several different lenders.
“And the number and variety of lenders has also changed — along with the sheer vulnerability of some clients.”
In general, Mr Wilkinson advises people to check out all the details of any credit lending beforehand “and be aware exactly what they mean”.
He added: “Tackling problems before they become really big makes all the difference in the world.
“Don’t just leave them until small problems become huge ones and you’re about to be evicted or taken to court.”
l There is a comprehensive CAB self-help website advice guide.org.uk which has downloadable advice sheets on everything from school uniform costs to payday loans.
The Mawdsley Street centre is open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 9.30am to 3.30pm and there is a phone service available on 0808 801 0011 manned from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
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