Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!

In the recent report from Mike Davis, NAIS Head of Service to the Cabinet Member – Social Justice, Community Safety & Equalities there is clear evidence that the NAIS service provides excellent support to the citizens of Birmingham. The main performance measure for the NAIS service, that appears in BCC corporate reports, is the amount of estimated ‘income maximisation’ achieved for citizens accessing the advice service. The April to September 2023 result of £10,295,722 is on target to meet and exceed the £12 million annual target.

However UNISON is concerned that the significant shifting of limited staff resources to the Early Intervention & Prevention Programme is adversely impacting the core services traditionally provided by NAIS.  Currently we have two main walk-in advice centres to serve the citizens of Birmingham based in Erdington and Northfield. These deal with a range of advice issues such as welfare benefits, debt, housing, energy, emergency food and advice on other council services.

With 17 of the current 36 FTE staff spending some of their time on Homes and Money (as part of EIP) this is taking staff away from responding to current citizen requests for support with Benefits, Rent and Mortgage Arrears, other cost of living issues and housing/homelessness by restricting the availability of interviews. We appear to be moving beyond the 20% Homes and Money (proactive) 80% NAIS face to face (crisis) ratio outlined in the Cabinet Report 25/04/2023 Appendix 3.

UNISON has been supportive of EIP and looking at new and innovative ways to support citizens. However the provision of a Rolls Royce service to a relatively small number of individuals (who have not sought assistance) should not be done by removing support from citizens actually requesting it. In this context the figures given by Mike Davies of 10,546 interviews conducted in the six months between April to September 2023 appears to show a reduction compared to 39,233 interviews completed in the previous 12 months. This partly due to changes in how Local Welfare Payments and Food Bank vouchers are issued but some is due to the switch in resources. In contrast only 131 individuals received the more in depth proactive support.

Closing Erdington Advice Centre

Our concerns have now been compounded by Mike Davies’s proposals in response to a suggestion that 67 Sutton New Road may be disposed of (a suggestion that has not be consulted on or agreed). Mike has suggested breaking up the Erdington team and getting them to work out of various, community centres. Libraries, Adult Education Centre’s.

Erdington Advice Centre is excellently located and a well-established service used by over 900 citizens a month. It expanded its hours to deal with the cost of living crisis opening one evening during the week and Saturday’s. Breaking up the team would create difficulties in managing annual leave and sickness and leave the only walk in centre in Birmingham, in Northfield. There are benefits working as part of a team rather than isolated individuals, which also raises potential health and safety issues.

The proposals are opposed by the whole Team who are all UNISON members, and this includes staff who are currently undertaking Homes and Money Advice duties.

We have written to the Cabinet member Nicky Brennan asking for her response.