Chair of Citizen Advice Surrey review of our work in the last 12 months
Firstly I would like to make a personal statement of thanks to the CAS trustees and especially the Steering Group and in particular Kim and Jane for taking on so much extra work during the last 6 months when my house in Surrey due to building work has been pretty much uninhabitable and I have had to decamp to our holiday house in the Isle of Wight. This house is designed for sailing and summer not working and winter and I have struggled to keep up. Having said that, here we are.
Following on from the AGM and our first members meeting this time last year, we began the year on a very positive note. The excellent debate and discussion on Advice line at the Members meeting leading us to support but no longer promote Adviceline felt that CAS and the LCAs were aligned and that CAS was continuing to fulfil its role.
Our members have faced a challenging year with the continued uncertainty around Universal Credit, introducing the national ASK domestic abuse screening project, embedding new quality audit processes and internal reorganisations including changes of management and premises, on top of continual budget cuts.
CAS through the year has worked hard in the background to continue strengthening our relationship with the LCA’s, through the managers group (I as chair now attend the managers meetings, as I will this afternoon) and through the trustee representatives on the CAS board. For the first time, in some years, we have a nearly full complement of Trustees nominated from the LCAs. As chair I feel confident that the Trustee Board is working in unison and together, we are moving towards being one voice within Surrey.
Our relationship with CitA is one of mutual support and we are delighted to have James Plunket as one of our speakers today.
The latter part of the year has been a busy one and all the more so in that CAS has no paid employees, so the responsibility falls solely on the Trustees.
We completed the Leadership Self-Assessment (this is an internal audit process ensuring both quality in governance and service delivery) in consultation with all the CAS Trustees. We are very pleased to report that we received a 3 x green marking.
From a governance perspective we have changed our Board Meeting structure to reflect the LSA process and now have 5 Trustees responsible for the 5 areas examined under the LSA. This has proved to work very well from the perspectives of both our strategic development and the completion of the Leadership Self-Assessment.
Our Business Plan is a live document discussed and updated at each Trustee Board meeting reflecting our plans and aspirations.
In this regard during the year we renewed our contract with Surrey County Council to continue co-delivering the Local Assistance Scheme helping Surrey residents in financial crisis meet their urgent needs. We also continued to have representation on the Surrey Healthwatch Board.
Our Board, along with the Surrey LCA Managers’ Group continues to review opportunities for county projects in line with our Business Plan and we are currently considering how we might contribute to Surrey Police’s Hate Crime strategy.
Our funds are limited and mostly restricted but a donation in kind by De Vere Horsley Park of accommodation for our Trustee meetings over the last 2 years has enabled us to operate in very professional serviced accommodation which has helped us to raise our game enormously. Several months ago I asked if this could be extended to host the meetings of the Surrey Managers Group and De Vere generously agreed, and I wish to extend our thanks to the De Vere team for their generosity and making us feel very welcome. I am also pleased to report that CAS provides secretarial support to the senior manager meetings.
Our website and communications policy are currently undergoing an update to ensure we are fully compliant and showing the best of what we can offer to the outside world. The trustees also had a training session on social media during the year, and as a result are now regularly communicating on WhatsApp.
Whilst the year has been positive in many respects, we cannot chide away from the fact that at the start of the year, apart from Healthwatch and LAS, we had no live projects and the Trustees felt that this was a gaping hole in our role. This still remains the case. However, I as Chair and I know many, if not all of my fellow Trustees feel more upbeat with regards to this. By taking a different approach and instead of waiting for funding to come to us we put on our thinking caps and looked at where we could almost create a project for ourselves with funding . Several ideas were formulated and together with the Manger Group Hate Crime was identified as a viable project.
In May 2018, David Munro, the Surrey Police and Crime Commissioner attended our Trustee Board meeting and outlined the work of the OPCC. CAS has subsequently been engaging with the OPCC and Surrey Police in discussions and actions to address hate crime in Surrey, both around raising awareness and increasing reporting. One of our Trustees has been very active and worked incredibly hard in training and developing this with the police and LCAs. This project is ongoing.
On behalf of CAS, I am also grateful to the unanimous support given to this project by the Surrey Managers’ Group and for their contribution in its development. Our Trustee leading this project is also now a member of the Crown Prosecution Service South East Local Involvement Scrutiny Panel which looks at improving outcomes for victims of Hate Crime. We have also been invited by the OPCC to take part in consultations following the decision by Surrey Police to take Victim Support services in house next year. I would like to thank Jane Bourgeois for her time and effort in bring this project to its fruition.
We are aware of the significant challenges facing Surrey County Council and local government generally and continue to work towards developing our relationship with them and I am delighted that Michael Couglin from SCC is able to attend our Members Meeting as a speaker..
As we go into 2019, I am feeling more confident of the future in relation to CAS. I feel if we continue to nurture our relationships with our partners, Surrey County Council, Citizens Advice, LCA’s and the Senior Manager Group and actively look at establishing new relationships and working practices CAS will go from strength to strength which ultimately will be of benefit to the citizens of Surrey in the years to follow.
Finally, I wish to thank my fellow Trustees for their all their support for Citizens Advice Surrey and myself throughout the year.
Chair, Citizens Advice Surrey